Review: Canon EOS R (the Mirrorless Camera That Truly Surprised Me)

I genuinely didn’t think I’d like the Canon EOS R, but I bought one not only for business reasons, but because I actually like it.

If you had told me a year ago that Canon would come out with a camera like the Canon EOS R, and that I’d actually purchase one from Adorama, I would’ve laughed in your face. But Canon has genuinely surprised me. The Canon EOS R camera is targeted at the semi-professional and high-end enthusiast and can be looked at as a bit of a fusion between the Canon 5D Mk IV and the Canon 6D Mk II stuffed into a mirrorless camera body and given a few new adjustments that make it a unique Canon product vs being another Sony copycat. The camera houses a more-than-sufficient, full frame 30.3MP sensor that is a happy medium between many of the 24MP sensors and the 42MP+ sensors out there in full frame cameras. To that end, one could argue that it is sort of positioning itself to be a jack of all trades and a master of none.

In real life and extended use with the camera, I can say with all confidence that it’s doing a pretty darn good job.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Build quality
  • Weather sealed like crazy
  • Autofocus is good
  • Protects the sensor when off
  • Canon’s menu system is still simple
  • Ergonomics feel nice
  • With a lightweight lens, it feels just as nice as a Sony camera.
  • These are some of Canon’s best RAW files that I’ve seen in years
  • Good battery life
  • Fast Wifi transfers, though not as simple as Sony’s

Cons

  • Needs Dual SD cards
  • Needs a joystick
  • The magic touch bar is odd and could use refinement.
  • Optimizing the way the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed dials work, such as the automatic remetering for ISO, not cool
  • Canon needs to improve or change their Face and eye detection.
  • Bigger than Sony, but the L lenses are about on par with their G Master glass

Gear Used

We tested the Canon EOS R with the RF 50mm f1.2 L USM, RF 24-105mm f4 L IS USM, and a number of Canon and Sigma lenses in addition to Canon radio flashes.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the Adorama listing

  • RF Mount Compatible with RF Lenses and EF/EF-S Lenses (with optional Adapter)
  • 30.3 Megapixel Full-frame CMOS Sensor and DIGIC 8 Image Processor.
  • Dual Pixel CMOS AF with 5,655 Manually Selectable AF Points
  • 4K 30p with Canon Log and 10 bit 4:2:2 HDMI Output
  • Built-in EVF with 3.69 Million Dots, Vari-angle Touchscreen LCD and Dot-matrix LCD Panel
  • USB Charge Compatible.
  • Silent Shutter
  • Mobile Workflow.
  • Sensor Size: Full Frame Camera
  • Max Video Quality: 4K 30fps
  • Viewfinder: Built-In Viewfinder
  • Wifi: Wi-Fi: Yes
  • Special Features: Bluetooth
  • Configuration: Body Only

Ergonomics

Taken from our first impressions post

Ergonomics

The Canon EOS R is pretty unique in that when you turn the camera off and remove the lens the shutter comes down. That protects the sensor. As simple as this sounds, no one else does this. Innovative? In this case, yes. No one else does it and I’m not sure why.

As you can tell from this image, the front of the Canon EOS R is pretty plain Jane. Not a whole lot to look at here.

Turn to the top of the Canon EOS R and what you’ll spot are a number of controls. It’s much like their DSLRs. On the left side of the camera, you’ll spot the on/off switch. I really wish this controlled the ISO instead.

On one side you’ve got two exposure control dials, a video record button, a shutter release, and a top LCD screen that we weren’t able to make glow despite the glowy function button. Instead, it switched up what information we saw. This made looking at said information difficult in the dark.

Again, I didn’t get much time with the camera thus far.

Now here is the biggest let down about the Canon EOS R; the single card slot. At least it’s an SD card slot and not XQD like Nikon did.

The back of the Canon EOS R includes a number of options like the LCD screen, playback, autofocus point selection on the right side near the thumb tab, and the new multifunction bar. Then there is the directional pad.

Canon’s viewfinder for the Canon EOS R looks really nice. And more than anything, I’m perhaps most excited to look through this and use it over and over again once it is properly calibrated for my eyes.

Build Quality

Look at this: would you let your Sony, Nikon, or Fujifilm camera do this? If you’re absolutely intimidated by this image or think I’m crazy, you’d be shocked at how resilient those cameras are. While I’d say without a doubt that Sony has the most weaknesses when it comes to build quality, their cameras are still very weather sealed. The Canon EOS R, in this case with a native lens, was able to survive quite the rainstorm in Astoria, Queens. It continued to work and the only problem I had was that the EVF sometimes thought my eye was there due to water droplets. But to be fair, the entire industry has this problem and I doubt there is a single engineer that would say otherwise.

But look at how exposed the hot shoe is; despite this it kept clicking and functioning. Major props are given to the Canon EOS R for that.

Also check out our list of the best weather sealed prime lenses to adapt to the Canon EOS R.

Ease of Use

Straightforward shooting photos is pretty simple, but I think the best customization of the Canon EOS R comes when you start to unlock what the dials and buttons can do. I’ve experimented with the exposure controls in two different ways;

  1. Shutter speed on the front dial, aperture on the back dial, and ISO control on the back magic touch bar
  2. Shutter speed on the front, aperture on the lens dial, and ISO control on the back dial

In my tests, I’ve found that every time you meter a scene and then re-meter, the Canon EOS R will try to change the ISO no matter what. This happens even if you’re in manual and not auto ISO. It’s incredibly annoying especially if you’re shooting a scene with a flash. In fact, if this worked perfectly, I’d be fine with it. But, it’s frustrating–and that’s something that Canon will need to fix with a firmware update.

But besides this, you’ll rather enjoy the touch menu controls and cool additions like the magic touch bar. If you wire the ISO control to this button, you’ll want to ensure that it allows you to lock it. Otherwise the touch bar can be a tad too sensitive and also annoying. What’s also annoying though is the fact that you’ll need to press and hold the left side to unlock and lock it. A dedicated switch around it would have make this much easier.

Then there is the big other thing that annoys me: why the heck did Canon remove the joystick? This is an essential item on any camera that is meant to be serious in any way. Lastly, what also annoys me is that you need to hold down the illumination button to wake up the LCD screen on top unless you set it up to do otherwise. While I’ve done a lot of complaining here, I should talk about what the Canon EOS R does really right.

  • When you turn the camera off, the shutter comes down and protects the sensor.
  • The battery life is pretty great.
  • The variety of what you can get with the autofocus options is helpful.
  • The Wifi connection is quick and reliable.
  • The ability to be specifically locked into a mode and not really move out of there is nice–and that goes for both photo and video. If I’m shooting in manual mode, I’m most likely not coming out of it.
  • The use of the touchscreen to navigate the menu quickly. You can get to whatever you want within two or three taps.

When it comes to ease of use, there are surely innovations here, but I genuinely don’t think they’re enough to say that this is a revolutionary camera. They’re good, and they’re very distinctly Canon in the DNA. The only thing that I’d perhaps comment on a bit more is the face and eye detection. With Sony’s system, I feel like your needing to take extra steps every time sort of takes your mind out of shooting portraits. But with Canon, the eye AF is wired in. Unfortunately for Canon, it’s pretty awful in comparison to how accurate Sony’s autofocus is.

We’ve talked a lot more about what Canon needs to do via firmware updates right here.

Metering

In our Sunny 16 tests, we found the Canon EOS R to nail the metering pretty darned well. I feel like the results from the Canon EOS R look and feel a bit like medium format slide film and to that end, you should expose it as such. I tended to underexpose in bright situations and overexpose in darker situations. Then in post, I’d make the best balance of the difference or I’d simply be happy with my exposure. The Canon EOS R, like every other mirrorless camera out there, has exposure preview built in. But for what it’s worth I barely ever use it.

Either way, know that if you’re shooting a landscape or street photography then Sunny 16 works just fine.

Autofocus

In most situations the Canon EOS R is fast and accurate. In fact in my entire time using the camera, it probably only missed focus a few time in low lit situations where I was using face detection and one time when I was using the wide horizontal autofocus area and trying to track a moving dancer at f1.2 or stopped down a bit. But even so, that’s difficult to do. However, I have to admit that the Canon EOS R was still able to deliver enough usable images in every situation.

I’ve already spoken about the Canon EOS R’s eye detection above and I also do so here. It’s great for portrait shooters for sure.

Image Quality

Overall, the image quality of the Canon EOS R is more than acceptable. I’d honestly call it some of the best image quality that Canon has delivered thus far in that it again is a jack of all trades. It helps deliver lots of detail, but not so much that you’re seeing crazy pores from your subjects in many situations. It has good high ISO output, and you’ll see image noise, but the noise looks film-like. It isn’t as clean as Sony’s offerings, but it’s still more than adequate. On top of that, the RAW file versatility in Adobe Lightroom is pretty decent.

RAW File Versatility

Edit

Using Adobe Lightroom with the Canon EOS R RAW files, I was able to deliver images that look really nice. The details that one can get from the shadows are greater, but the details from the highlights still aren’t too bad either. Again, I feel like part of this still dictates that you be a smart shooter. As you can see below with the original file though, I wasn’t such a smart shooter and instead I embraced that pastel look of Fujifilm Pro 400H. Then I was able to edit the RAW to get lots from it.

Original

Overall, I can’t really complain here. If you’re going for a camera like this, you ideally will know what you’re doing.

High ISO Output

ISO 1600

Considering the results that I’m getting at higher ISOs, I can’t really complain here. The image noise is clean enough for me in most situations. If you’re pushing more than one stop, then you’re going to start to introduce noise that you don’t really want. Part of this is why I say that you should shoot as close to your creative vision in-camera as possible with the Canon EOS R.

ISO 1600

Even at a higher ISO and a shallow depth of field you’re getting a ton of details.

ISO 6400

ISO 3200

This is some of the cleanest ISO 3200 I’ve seen from Canon. There’s a lot of detail in the chicken.

Extra Image Samples

What you’re seeing here are images I’ve shot and shown already, except that all of these were RAW files that I edited.

Conclusions

Likes

  • Lots of the little things
  • Ergonomics are nice
  • Battery life
  • The lenses are what will make this system.

Dislikes

  • Needs a joy stick
  • Dual card slots would be really nice.
  • I personally wanted an updated version of the 5Ds’s sensor.

I like the Canon EOS R. In fact, I bought one. But I’ll be honest, I bought it partially because I need to review more gear in Canon mount, and while I’ve used metabones adapters, they’re not always the best choices vs Canon’s own option. However, I believe in this lens system. They’re doing a lot of things other folks aren’t doing. And while the sensor isn’t image stabilized, I have no problems here because the image stabilization of the lenses is really great. I never found it to be a problem in real life use.

To that end, I need to give the Canon EOS R an Editor’s Choice award. Want one? Check Amazon.