CANON EOS R CAMERA REVIEW
By Specialist Photographic Guide Lance van de Vyver.
Canon ESO R hands on field test
For those of you reading this on the At Close Quarters blog, at the beginning of our April #BigCatPhotoSafari, I was sent some new gear by Canon SA / The Mail Room to review. This included Canons top mirrorless camera, the EOS R, the new RF 28-70mm f/2 and RF 50mm f/1.2 lenses and an EF 400mm f/5.6 prime.
In this review I will be discussing my honest opinion about the EOS R camera body only.
As I am a wildlife photographer, and I was also reviewing the 400mm f/5.6 for our clients (review to follow), I paired the camera with this lens for 90% of the shooting I did, with around 10% taken on the beautiful new RF 28-70mm f/2.
For those reading this on another platform, I am a lead guide at At Close Quarters, a safari company specialising in photographic safaris. Our April trip was an 8-night safari to the amazing Sabi Sands game reserve in the Greater Kruger area of South Africa.
For those technical boffins out there, the below are the most important specs found on the EOS R:
Sensor: 30.3 MP CMOS Sensor, 5.36µ pixel size
Sensor Size: 36 x 24mm
Resolution: 6720 x 4480
Native ISO Sensitivity: 100-40,000
Extended ISO Sensitivity: 50, 51,200 (H1)-102,400 (H2)
In-Body Image Stabilisation: None (Some RF lenses feature Optical Stabilisation)
RAW Formats: RAW (14 bit), C-RAW
Processor: DIGIC 8
Dust Reduction: Yes
Weather Sealing/Protection: Yes
Body Build: Full Magnesium Alloy
Shutter: 1/8000 – 30 seconds
Shutter Durability: 150,000 cycles
Storage: 1x SD / SDHC / SDXC slot
Max Buffer Raw: 47 images with UHS-II card
Viewfinder: 3.69 Million Dot OLED Electronic Viewfinder
Viewfinder Coverage: 100%
Viewfinder Magnification: 0.76x
Speed: 8 FPS (only in One-Shot Mode), 5 FPS (Continuous AF, No Live View in EVF), 3 FPS (Live View in EVF)
Built-in Flash: No
Autofocus System: Dual Pixel CMOS AF, 5655 Focus points
AF Sensitivity Range: -6 to +19 EV
LCD Screen: Touch-enabled 3.2″ Fully Articulating LCD with 2.1 Million Dots
Slow Motion HD Video: Yes
Movie Modes: 4K UHD @ 30 fps max
Movie Video Compression: H.264/MPEG-4 Advanced Video Coding
HDMI Output: 10-bit 4:2:2
Silent Photography Mode: Yes (In single image burst rate only)
Focus Stacking: No
In-Camera HDR Capability: Yes
Battery Type: LP-E6N battery pack
Battery Life: 350 shots (CIPA)
USB Standard: Type-C 3.1
Weight: 660g (Body Only)
Size: 136 x 98 x 84 mm (5.35 x 3.86 x 3.31″)
Price: ±R29,995 (body only)
One of the most important things in a camera for me, is it’s feel. I spend hundreds of hours with cameras in my hands, and if they are not comfortable, they are not going to work for me.
Firstly, when you first pick it up, it is super comfortable in the hand. I would say I have medium sized hands and have found some cameras to feel too small in the past. In saying that, however, I am a back-button focuser, so I focus the camera with my thumb. Unfortunately, in my opinion, canon did not get its thumb button placement right on this body. They are far too close to the side. For me to use the AF ON button to autofocus, I almost had to remove my thumb from the camera completely. This can often make you feel like you may drop the camera if not paying attention.
As you can see on the DSLR, the placement of these buttons is much better. The slightly frustrating thing is, there is an empty space on the body where my thumb sits. This is one of those things that will matter a lot more to some than it will to others. If I didn’t use my thumb to focus, I may not have noticed.
One last thing that was frustrating for me more than it should (mentioned under ‘Feel’ below), is the ridiculous one orientation only dust caps for both the lenses and the camera…. As wildlife photographers we often have to change lenses quickly and even in the dark. We remove the lens from the camera, chuck a dust cap on and move on….. not with this system. The first time I changed a lens in the dark during an important shoot I ended up leaving the lens lying on the seat without the dust cap on as I couldn’t find the right orientation fast enough. In the middle of the African bush where dust is everywhere, this wasn’t ideal.
When it comes to cameras, personally the feel is much more important than the look, however the EOS R is a good-looking camera.
The ELV (electronic viewfinder) and LCD screens are large, sharp and super bright. The full tilt and rotate feature of the LCD makes it a breeze to use. I normally have my LCD screens on full brightness when shooting on safari, as the bright sun often makes them hard to see. Not this camera! I had this LCD screen on 5/7 brightness which was more than sufficient even in direct sunlight.
One issue I have about the two screens, is that when shooting bursts, it is a little difficult to keep up with a moving subject as the image isn’t quite “live” anymore. It appears as more of a rapid slideshow of what you have just shot rather than a live movie of what you are shooting.
The menu system of the EOS R is the same good old Canon menu we have grown to know and love, albeit depending on the model of camera you are used to, there may be much more or much less options available.
The menu system is split into its five typical Canon menu sections; ‘camera’, ‘autofocus’, ‘playback’, ‘set up’, ‘custom’ and ‘my menu’. It is simple to navigate through and select the options you may need. Any users who have been with Canon already, will have no issues at all, whilst users new to Canon, will pick it up very quickly.
The EOS R is a little limited, in my opinion, in its level of customisation. You definitely can customise some buttons to a certain extent, however, this is quite limited compared to most DSLRs in the Canon lineup. I shoot back button focus, and on my other Canon bodies I use different autofocus types and points assigned to the AF ON and * buttons. Unfortunately, on the EOS R the * cannot be assigned to autofocus, so you are stuck in the focus points and focus type unless you change this through the menus or scroll through the options with the auto focus point selection button. This is not too bad, but coming from using cameras where I can essentially have multiple modes simply by pushing different buttons, it can be limiting.
Canon seems to have limited some of the customisable options that the latest DSLR cameras had (not sure why they would do this), but one function they did leave in, which is one of my favourites, the option to click the M-Fn button and have this scroll through your custom shooting modes. I love using this method on my 1dxmkii, so was very pleased to find this in the EOS R as well. This function allows me to shoot in aperture priority, but instantly change to my panning settings (Shutter priority) and then back again if the moment arises. Being able to click a button to do this rather than turning a dial saves a lot of time in the heat of the moment.
To be honest this was the area where I was most concerned about this camera before I began using it. It is well known that Mirrorless cameras chew through their batteries due to the fact that you are constantly using the sensor and screen to use the camera, however I was quite surprised how well the batteries lasted. In the nine days I was shooting with the EOS R, I only changed the battery on it twice and the last battery I only used down to about 90%… This would have easily lasted another two or three days with similar shooting.
Now, the beauty of this mirrorless body is that Canon decided to use the LP-E6N and LP-E6 batteries instead of creating a new battery specific to the mirrorless body. These batteries are not only readily available to buy but are also used in most of Canon’s line up. So if you have any of the 70/80d, 6d, 7d or 5d bodies already, chances are you already have spares lying around like I do… Well done Canon!
Over the course of the 9 days I took 4,144 images with the camera, and with only just two battery changes and the last battery down to 80%, this averages out to roughly 1883 images per charge. This greatly exceeded my expectations about the battery performance, as the stated number of images per charge via the Canon website is only 370.
I will mention however that I was conscious of my battery time, more so that when using a DSLR. I had the camera to auto power off after one minute, which seemed so much longer than normal when its bright LED screen was still sitting there glowing under the mid days sun. On a few occasions I did turn the body completely off when we were driving around looking for animals, which I do not do with my DSLR’s. Again, though I think this was more a mindset issue than a camera issue.
Lastly, I found myself using the LCD screen a lot more than the ELV, which also plays a minor role in how many images you can take per battery.
When it came to the autofocus of the EOS R, I have mixed reviews. I believe at this stage, mirrorless cameras tend to be aimed more at portrait photographers, and if I was a portrait photographer, I’m sure I would be super happy with it. With eye focus and facial recognition, to take images of people is super easy. However, being a wildlife photographer, these functions were of no use to me.
The actual autofocus itself was surprisingly fast and snappy. The focus tracking on animals over 50m away under dull tungsten spotlights only was very accurate and locked on well.
1/250th sec at f/5.6, ISO 8,000, -2 2/3rd EV
The images were tack sharp with the three lenses I used on it and, in unobstructed scenes, it worked incredibly well! The camera was quick to focus in very dimly lit scenes and with great accuracy. At one stage we were even taking images of lions and hippos roughly 40 minutes after sunset with no struggling at all to obtain focus!
1/125th sec at f/5.6, ISO 8,000, +2/3rd EV
Where it became frustrating for me was when subjects were partially obstructed, when the subjects were too small (for the AF point) or with subjects moving quickly or erratically.
With the subjects being partially obstructed, I simply found the single autofocus points too large, I don’t want to say huge, but it is way too big for accurate wildlife photography. The frustrating things is, a bit like the burst rate, you can use a smaller box in One Shot auto focus mode, but not in AI Servo (which is the mode I am always in, due to back button focusing).
Here are some examples of occurrences which happened a little too often.
Animals moving through long grass the camera simply couldn’t get through the grass well enough to lock onto the intended subject. Shooting with a DSLR with the same lens at the same distance, the single point could be placed over the subject’s head and focus attained and held. With the EOS R however, the points are so large however that I was often hitting the grass instead of the animal’s head, and then it was nearly impossible to force the autofocus past the grass and back to the subject. If this was a once in a lifetime sighting. I feel I may have been a little sad afterwards.
1/1000th sec at f/5.6, ISO 800, +1 EV
When subjects were walking towards me or erratically, the autofocus points were simply too difficult to change quickly enough. I found myself with lots of images with strange compositions, and rather just trying to keep the subjects in focus instead of focusing and composing via changing the AF points.
1/2000th sec at f/2.2, ISO 6,400, 0 EV
The EOS R boasts 5655 auto focus points, covering 88% of the screen. This sounds incredible, however, to move the focus points around quickly with the arrow buttons was far too slow and painful. There are 87 positions horizontally and 65 vertically. This means you have incredible control of where the points lie on your subject, however if the subject moves its head around a lot, or is on the move, this can actually be quite frustrating. Hopefully, in one of the firmware updates there will be an option to turn off some of the points to speed up the moving process.
You can move the points quicker by clicking the auto focus point selection button and then turning the dials, however this never felt natural to me and took a lot of practice. Again, more a user issue most likely than a camera issue.
There is an option to use part of the screen as a form of digital joystick when looking through the view finder. I tried it, but it didn’t work well for me, mostly because of the size of my hands. My hands aren’t small, but to stretch my thumb across to the LCD screen in a comfortable way whilst still keeping a grip on the body with a telephoto lens attached just wasn’t happening. Even if your thumb does make it there, you still then need to move it around to make the points move which feels super unstable.
What did work quite well, if I was shooting on a beanbag and using the LCD screen to shoot with, was simply touching the area in the image that you wanted the camera to focus with. It instantly jumps to the area of the scene you touched and focuses there.
For certain animal portraits, particularly those where the animal is slightly smaller in the frame, it was extremely difficult to autofocus on the eye. I found the camera often was a little in front, focusing on the animals nose instead. Again, this is due to the AF points just being a tad too large. As you can see here, the leopard’s nose is sharper than the eye, as the focus point covering the eye was too large. This too should be something that could and should be an easy fix with a firmware upgrade.
1/800th sec at f/5.6, ISO 125, 0 EV
One last feature well worth mentioning is focus peaking. This is where you have your lens in manual focus mode, and focus using the lens itself. The area of the scene that has sharp edges in focus show up on the live image in red. This can be very handy in situations where the animal is static, however I had major issues trying to keep up with a moving animal using this focusing technique, especially when I wanted a half decent composition. I also found, that because the focus peaking is looking for sharp edges, sometimes the animal’s face/eyes didn’t light up as expected and I would still end up guessing if my focus was 100% accurate or not. I didn’t manage to record any of the focus peaking myself in the short time the camera was with me, but if you want to see what I am talking about here is a short clip from Canon USA.
When I am not photographing wildlife, I shoot a lot of architecture and food photography. I would have loved to have the camera for a food shoot in particular as I often shoot top down images of dishes.
A lot of the time when shooting these top down food images, I cannot get to my camera’s viewfinder comfortably, as the camera is often higher than I am tall. The focus peaking with the addition of the fully rotating LCD screen would make shooting these images a breeze!
This is one area for me that could do with some improvement. Again, if this camera is purchased for portraits, food, architecture or anything else that doesn’t require a fast burst rate, you will most likely be super happy with the 5fps in AI Servo mode and 8fps in the one-shot mode. For a wildlife and sport photographer though, this can be a touch on the slow side.
I am also rather confused as to why Canon decided to make the fast shooting rate in the autofocus mode that is designed for shooting static subjects and the slow shooting rate for the focus mode designed for shooting moving subjects.
If this was your “portrait” wildlife camera (if there is such a thing), or if you have a 5d body already and are used to this speed of shooting, then 5fsp and 8fps would be more than sufficient, however if you have come from the 7d or 1d line and are used to 10fps or 12fps, or perhaps are comparing the EOS R with the Sony A7iii or Nikon Z6 or Z7, you may be a little disappointed at the speed of shooting.
I can see where Canon was going with this one, and personally I don’t mind it. I assigned the touch bar to control my ISO which I change a lot during the course of a safari drive. I typically set my ISO one stop higher than “needed” so I have a bit of wiggle room with my shutter speed if an animal picks up speed or the light changes, the touch bar made changing the ISO easy as I didn’t need to find a button and then a dial after. I will admit though, I did seem to bump it a lot when picking the body up and ended up on ISO 12,800 far too often because I hadn’t noticed doing so at the time. This could also be mostly because the bar is located close to where it is comfortable for my thumb to rest. In assuming this was the typical case, as I always accidentally bumped the ISO up and never down.
There is a feature to lock the bar and unlock by pressing on one side for two seconds. For me this seemed far too long, so I rather tried to be more careful. It is also very easy to accidentally overshoot your intended end position with the bar as it can be quite sensitive, so to use it will take some practice.
The image quality from the EOS R was stunning! If it were for the image quality alone, I would buy this camera tomorrow.
1/800th sec at f/5.6, ISO 400, +1/3rd EV
With roughly 30 megapixels, the file size is large enough to keep most shooters happy, but not so large the image quality suffers. The noise levels are mind blowing when you shoot on the slightly brighter side. I shot this camera all the way up to ISO 12,800 and would happily do so again. In situations where the sun had already set, I was still shooting at 1000th of a second by pushing the ISO to its extremes. By making sure the camera was slightly overexposed the noise levels are ridiculously low.
Here are some examples with no noise reduction at ISO 6400, 8000, 10000 and 12800!
1/1600th sec at f/5.6, ISO 6,400, +1 EV
1/1600th sec at f/5.6, ISO 8,000, +1 1/3rd EV
1/1600th sec at f/5.6, ISO 10,000, +1 2/3rd EV
1/2000th sec at f/5.6, ISO 12,800, +1 2/3rd EV
At “normal” ISO ranges the images are breathtaking. The full frame sensor rendering stunning bokeh and rich colours.
1/640th sec at f/5.6, ISO 400, +1/3rd EV
1/400th sec at f/2.0, ISO 400, -2 1/3rd EV
Likes / Dislikes
|Megapixels||Burst rate a touch slow|
|Image quality||Single focus point in AI-Servo too big|
|Noise levels at high ISO||Buttons on rear could be better placed|
|M-Fn button allowing custom mode selection||Would like a joystick|
|Good battery life||Would like all buttons to be fully customizable|
|Good battery selection||Would like to limit selectable AF points when using arrow keys|
|LCD screen and EVF are stunning and bright||Feels unsafe in hands when back button focusing|
|Low light auto focus very good||One position lens dust cap|
I think this is a very good camera, and for the right user it will create some absolutely stunning images. I was very skeptical of mirrorless cameras in general before using this one, and I am glad to say that I am now less worried that most manufacturers seem to be leaning the way or mirrorless.
The images from this body alone make this a great purchase, especially for the price, and with a few minor tweaks and upgrades I would happily own one of these myself.
Do I think it is a replacement for my 1dxmkii? No, but these cameras are in different leagues, price ranges and designed for different purposes. Do I think it would replace my 5dmk4? It’s hard to say. I like the greater customization you get within the 5dmk4 and the few extra frames per second shooting in AI-Servo autofocus mode. However, the EOS R is much lighter and more compact than the 5dmk4, so if it is always going to be my second body anyway and especially when taking traveling into consideration, I would have to think long and hard about which one would be going with me, which in my mind is already a win for the EOS R.