Report: Canon EOS R’s New Firmware Makes AF Comparable to Sony’s

The Canon EOS R is getting a firmware update that significantly improves its autofocus for sports and portraiture.

Though folks will sit there and belittle the Canon EOS R, I genuinely like it. I see it as a step closer to Canon actually deciding to listen to its customers and the industry. With the news of the latest firmware update, the Canon EOS R is becoming even better. On a recent press trip, we had the chance to play with a beta version of the latest firmware update. This new update brings majorly improved autofocus tracking. Indeed, a room of journalists was seriously pleased with some demonstration videos we saw.

Further, we were surprised to see just how good the new firmware is. To me, Canon’s place in the mirrorless camera world has been all about its lenses. They’re making focal length options that no one else is even talking about, much less creating. Now that they’ve given the camera a bump in autofocus performance, we’re happy to report that we were really shocked at what it can do.

Editor’s Note: This trip was fully paid for and covered by Canon. The Phoblographer’s staff is trained to resist any sort of overly positive reporting that could come as a result of these press excursions. This report is being presented to you with facts.

The New Canon EOS R Firmware

The latest Canon EOS R firmware update brings with it several new changes. The previous update most prominently allowed the camera to shoot in silent shutter and continuous mode. This latest update significantly improves the autofocus performance. Specifically, it enhances autofocus when it comes to tracking. Unlike other manufacturers, Canon’s autofocus works differently when tracking faces. On the Canon EOS R, there is a specific face and eye detection tracking setting. The camera analyzes the scene to find a face and then automatically tracks it. There is no need to set the camera to Servo tracking mode. Where you’ll need Servo is with tracking moving objects using the other autofocus zone area modes.


Shooting Portraits: Canon’s Game-Changing Face Detection/Tracking Autofocus Abilities with F1.2 Lenses

During my session with a version of the Canon EOS R with a beta firmware installed, we found the tracking to be pretty much flawless. We used the Canon RF 50mm f1.2 L USM, Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM, and the Profoto B10. The entire system was able to perform on par with what I feel most Sony cameras can do. Canon provided the models, but journalists set up their own lighting and areas to shoot within the garage setting we were placed. Even when the camera didn’t give autofocus confirmation, one could see through the viewfinder that it was actively tracking a face. More importantly, it was also following the eyes when possible. To give a bit more background, we were shooting in a parking garage and outdoors under the Atlanta sun. These are more than ideal conditions for a photographer. So we’re going to need to test this in low lighting on our own terms a bit later.

We found two issues with the autofocus though, and that’s with sunglasses. Sunglasses often throw off the Canon EOS R, and was unable to detect a face. In a situation like this, you’ll need to use a single AF point and constantly refocus the way photographers used to do with DSLRs. Once the sunglasses come off, there’s no problem. The other big problem has to do with the subject looking away from the camera. If they’re looking off in the distance, the probability of the system not being able to detect a face with two eyes goes down. It can sometimes hold onto it though. To be fair, we’ve seen this issue with Sony as well.

In comparison to every other camera system, so far we are finding that the Canon EOS R’s new firmware update is:

  • Pretty much comparable to Sony’s, but I’d still put my money on the Sony a9 or the Sony a7r VI for consistency.
  • Far better than Nikon’s
  • Much better than Fujifilm’s X and GF series
  • Significantly better than Panasonic’s S1 and S1R series of cameras

We’re very excited to try this firmware out when it’s finalized. Combining this new update with Canon’s F1.2 lenses can net results that just aren’t possible with another camera system. Further, the fact that Canon can allow for autofocus tracking this fast when shooting wide open at f1.2 is game-changing. Sony’s fastest lenses are at f1.4. When the Canon lenses are stopped down, they’re given a bit more of an advantage rather than having the super shallow depth of field being thrown off. You’re probably saying, “Oh, the difference isn’t that much!” But it’s a big difference when it comes to autofocus algorithms.

In Practice with Drifting and Racecars

We decided to give the Canon EOS R a real test when Canon presented us with racecars. The challenge: show us how fast the camera can keep focus with the Sigma 60-600mm Sports lens and Canon’s 100-400mm L. To do this, we set the camera to Servo tracking and selected a wide horizontal zone. The results were pretty amazing. The Sigma lens lagged behind just a bit, and we honestly expected it to do so. Sigma’s lenses on the Canon EOS R have always been adequate when it comes to autofocus performance, but Canon’s are better. This is the same thing for pretty much any manufacturer’s options. To that end, I’d say that the Sigma lens is one of the best birding options out there right now for Canon EOS R users who own the adapter. But if you want fast autofocus performance, then you’ll need to go with Canon.

Canon’s system may also be a bit weird to those who are used to options from Sony or other systems. Canon makes you choose an area of the frame, and you’ll need to ensure that your subject is just in that area. This requires you to pan your camera if the subject is too small or moving too fast. With Sony, it will lock onto an object and track it through the entire frame. For what it’s worth, I like Sony’s better, but Canon’s can allow a photographer to have more control and precision.

So far we really like the results that come with the latest Canon EOS R firmware update. But again, we played with a beta version. We’re going to need to see how the final firmware plays out. The Canon EOS R is at a fair price at Adorama right now. And if you want even more proof of how sold we are, check out our full review.

Chris Gampat

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