They were considered an oddity a few years ago but are rapidly going mainstream thanks to the fact they deliver very good quality pictures and videos without weighing a tonne (well, in digital terms at least). We are talking about mirrorless cameras, those compact shooters that pack in switchable lenses like their high-profile DSLR brothers but come in form factors that are more in line with easily pocketable digital cameras. And ironically, one of the world’s leading brands in cameras — Canon — has only now really come to the mirrorless battle with its EOS-M.
That said, it has definitely come into it with some very significant imaging muscle. The EOS-M comes with an 18.0-megapixel APS-C sensor, pretty much the same that you find in its more heavyweight 600D and 650D DSLR cameras, capable of 4.3 fps continuous shooting and 3 fps with autofocus tracking, as well as shooting HD video at 30fps. It comes with an EF M 18-55 kit lens, and the option to even use Canon’s normal EF lenses, provided you are ready to shell out extra for an adaptor (ah, if only it had come with the box). There is a 3.0-inch capacitive LCD with support for multi-touch, and a flash that can be attached to the camera on the top — there is no inbuilt, pop-up flash here, alas.
The camera is built on solid rather than spectacular lines. Unlike Sony which in its new NEX mirrorless cameras has tried to make the interface more DSLR-ish (more physical buttons and a viewfinder), Canon has gone with a more minimalistic approach. There is a dial on the top of the camera, yes, but it is just for switching between scene intelligent auto mode, manual exposure and movie auto exposure (simple English: automatic, manual and video).
The back houses a dial with single and continuous shooting modes as well as a junk it option, and buttons for menu, review and image information.
To do anything else, you have to depend on the 3-inch touchscreen display, which is fixed and cannot be tilted. The camera is very compact (just a shade over 10 cms long) and light — it makes the NEX-6 look almost obscenely big and tips the scales in the vicinity of 300 grammes with battery. Yes, carrying this one around is easy.
What, however, we found to be not quite as easy is using the camera. Yes, when we got it doing just what we wanted, we ended up with fantastic pictures and videos in different light conditions, but getting there involved a few headaches. For one, while the touchscreen is the best we have seen in a camera with a changeable lens, getting used to the whole menu system takes a while.
And that compact body means that there is no place for a viewfinder, so you end up holding the camera slightly away from you to check how the image is looking in the viewfinder with one hand even while you fiddle with the lens to get things just right with the other.
No, it is not quite as convenient as using a DSLR with a conventional viewfinder. The fact that the EOS-M has almost no ‘grip’ on the front (there is a token bump which we did not find of much use) does not help its cause. And finally, there is the matter of autofocus. We don’t know whether it is a software issue but the camera did seem to take a while to lock on to the subject, even when we jabbed on the touchscreen to focus on it.
All of which makes the EOS-M a bit of an oddity. At Rs 49,995, it is more expensive than other full fledged DSLRs like Canon’s own 600D, and costs about as much as the easier to use if a tad bulkier Sony NEX-6 (which also has Wi-Fi and a tiltable display and flash). Yes, when it gets really going, it is as good as any camera we have used in terms of detail and clarity, but the interface needs getting used to, and the slow autofocus can be an irritant. It has the specs, yes, and when on song, is plain awesome and delightfully compact, but we are not sure the EOS-M is Canon’s best mirrorless step forward.