The two biggest names in photography—Canon and Nikon—sat on the sidelines and watched as Sony became the hottest player in the full-frame mirrorless world. That changed in late summer, with both companies debuting new systems. We’ve already looked at the Nikon Z 7, which is a solid first effort. The Canon EOS R ($2,299, body only) isn’t as polished or as featured, but does have one big advantage for Canon users—it works with your existing SLR accessories, as well as lenses via an inexpensive adapter. But, despite offering a little bit more resolution, the EOS R is no threat to the Sony a7 III, our Editors’ Choice in this category.
Canon’s Design Choices
The EOS R’s silhouette looks like a Canon—it has the gentle, sloping lines we’re used to seeing in the company’s industrial design, a contrast to the more angled feel of the Nikon Z 6. It’s sized similarly to an entry-level SLR, minus the extra space for the mirror box of course. The EOS R measures 3.9 by 5.3 by 3.3 inches (HWD) and weighs 1.5 pounds (both figures are without a lens attached).
Canon states the EOS R is protected from dust and splashes. It is, though its weather sealing is not as extensive as the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. A teardown by Roger Cicala at Lensrentals shows the EOS R’s sealing to be more consumer-grade, similar to the EOS 6D Mark II. The EOS R is priced in between the two, so it’s not too surprising the camera sports the higher-end sensor from the 5D series and the lower-end build of the 6D.
The EOS R’s handgrip is very comfortable. It’s the first thing I noticed, and a big plus—but the R falters in other ergonomic areas. Many manufacturers put the power switch around the shutter release—Canon doesn’t. Its shutter releases tend to sit at a steep angle, at the top of the handgrip—a design choice that goes a long way to making the grip as comfortable as it is.
The R’s power switch is on the top plate, to the left of the EVF and hot shoe. It’s a simple two-stage design, and takes up a good amount of space. It’s space I’d prefer to see dedicated to a different control—a programmable dial perhaps. Missing are any front control buttons—they can come in handy, like the dual programmable buttons that sit next to the Nikon Z 6’s lens mount.
The right side of the top plate is also a mixed bag. I love the trend of putting information displays on the top—it’s something expected on an SLR, but often omitted from mirrorless designs. The EOS R’s panel is monochrome, with an optional backlight, and shows the current shooting mode, exposure settings, and battery life.
A cluster of buttons sit to its right. The Backlight control is closest, with the Record button slightly right and forward, and the Lock button. You can set how much of the camera’s controls are locked down when you turn it on—by default it will prevent unwanted changes to the rear dial and lens control ring, but you can also add the front dial, touch screen, and M-Fn bar to the list of locked controls via the menu.
The front control dial sits perpendicular to the top of the handgrip, with the M-Fn button right next to it and the shutter release ahead. M-Fn brings up an on-screen menu to quickly adjust ISO, drive, autofocus, white balance, and flash power settings. The latter are only for an external Speedlite—the EOS R has no built-in flash, a feature absent from almost all modern full-frame cameras.
It’s the rear control wheel I find the most troublesome. It sits flat at the rear of the top plate, but is positioned so it’s a little bit of a reach to touch and turn. It’s just not quite in the right place. And, for me at least, the rear dial is an essential control.
The shooting Mode is adjusted via a button, located at the center of the rear dial. It’s an odd choice from Canon, which has used Mode dials for all but its top-end sports cameras, to go with the button with the EOS R, while Nikon, which is typically a Mode button company, went with a dial on the Z 6 and Z 7. I would have preferred a dial, but it’s something that comes down to pure personal preference.
The Menu button is on the rear, at the top left corner in the space above the LCD and to the left of the eyecup. To the right of the EVF you’ll find the M-Fn bar. It’s something new from Canon, and to cameras in general. The narrow touch-sensitive strip responds to taps and swipes, and can be used to adjust various sundry settings. I opted to use it to adjust the focus area, but it can also be set to change other settings, including ISO, white balance, and microphone sensitivity, among others.
It’s all well and good that M-Fn is so configurable. But I’m not sure if it’s that useful. It has two operating modes—one where you have to touch it for a split-second before it becomes active, and a second where it’s always active. Each has its own problems—if you go with the delay, you’ll find the touch controls a little frustrating to use. If you go with no delay, you’re going to change settings by accident. It will happen, and it will happen at the worst possible time. Also, since the bar uses the same type of technology as a touch screen, you need to have skin-to-skin contact for it to work. If you wear gloves, make sure they’re compatible with touch screens or fingerless.
Other rear controls are more traditional. The AF-ON button is part of the thumb rest, and easy to locate by touch. To its right are the * (AE Lock) and focus adjustment buttons. Info, Play, and Delete are lower on the body, surrounding the four-way directional pad. At the pad’s center is Q/Set, which launches an on-screen control menu.
There’s no focus adjustment joystick, which is included in the EOS R’s two closest competitors, the Nikon Z 6 and Sony a7 III. It’s a shame—adjusting focus points with the rear directional pad is a slow chore, and while the LCD supports touch-and-drag focus area adjustment when you’re framing shots with the EVF, it’s difficult to use if you’re left-eye dominant—too much of your face covers the control that you should be using to move the focus point.
In addition to on-body controls, native lenses for the EOS R include an on-lens control ring. It’s programmable and includes detents. I like it more than the similar rings on the Nikkor Z lenses Nikon has introduced with its Z mirrorless system. The detents allow you to lock into adjustments with confidence—if you want to adjust the aperture or EV compensation by a third of a stop, you can do so easily with a one-click turn. The lens ring system is not perfect, though. I found it worked quite well, but confirmed a bug that others have reported when using it as an ISO control adjustment—the EOS R can sometimes slip in or out of automatic ISO control, seemingly at random, when setting ISO using the lens ring. Hopefully Canon will address this via a firmware update.
The rear LCD is a vari-angle design, which means it can swing out to the side, face all the way forward, up, or down, and the screen can also reverse and tuck in against the body so it will be protected for storage or transport. It’s the only full-frame mirrorelss camera we’ve seen with a screen of this type—rivals around this price point, the Sony a7 III and and Nikon Z 6, feature screens that tilt up and down, but don’t swing out to the side or face forward. We expect Panasonic’s first full-frame mirrorless camera, scheduled to ship next year, to have a screen design similar to the Canon.
The EOS R’s 3.2-inch display is sharp, 2.1 million dots deliver plenty of detail and allow you to magnify the frame to confirm critical focus. It’s also sensitive to touch. You can navigate menus, swipe through images during review, and tap to set a focus point. As mentioned above, it also acts as a focus point control surface when using the EVF to frame shots.
The viewfinder is very good, although not the best we’ve seen around this price point—I give some preference to the Nikon Z 6 there. The EOS R is slightly smaller, with a 0.71x magnification rating, versus the 0.8x you get with the Nikon Z 6 and 0.78x offered by the Sony a7 III.
My complaint isn’t with the viewfinder—it’s not class-leading, but it’s not substandard by any means. It’s the eye sensor I have problems with. It does its job—switching from the LCD to the EVF—a little too eagerly. There were several occasions when I was greeted with a blank LCD because the camera was close enough to my body to trigger the eye sensor. We saw a similar issue with the last-generation Sony a7 II, but it was fixed in the a7 III model. I’ve seen other cameras address this issue by disabling the sensor when the LCD is tilted or swung out from the body, or simply reducing the proximity that activates the eye sensor.
Connectivity and Power
The EOS R includes built-in wireless connectivity—an expected feature in today’s world. It works with the Canon Camera Connect app, a free download for Android and iOS. The app has a step-by-step connection guide, but you can also use a QR code, shown on the EOS R’s LCD, to speed up the initial setup.
Once paired you can transfer images and videos to your phone and also control the camera remotely. You have full access to manual exposure settings, as well as autofocus settings and video mode, when using your phone as a remote.
The EOS R isn’t positioned as a pro model, so it doesn’t have the PC Sync socket we expect from higher-end bodies. This is only a concern if you’re still using a wired connection to off-camera strobes, at a time when the industry has largely moved to wireless external flash control.
You do get 3.5mm headphone and microphone ports, mini HDMI, remote control, and USB-C ports, all located on the left side. The memory card slot is on the right. The EOS R supports a single UHS-II SD/SDHC/SDXC card. If your workflow requires the redundancy delivered by dual card slots—a failed memory card is not something a wedding photographer would ever want to deal with—wait for Canon to release a model for pros, or opt for the Sony a7 III, which does have dual slots.
Canon has opted to use the same battery that its current SLRs utilize, the LP-E6N. It is rated for about 370 images using the LCD or 350 shots with the EVF. That’s similar to the Nikon Z 6 (400 shots LCD, 330 shots EVF), but lags behind the Sony a7 III (710 shots per charge).
RF Lens System
The EOS R introduces a new lens mount, RF. It’s not compatible with the EF-M mount used by Canon’s APS-C mirrorless camera line, dubbed EOS M. But you can use SLR lenses, both EF and EF-S, via an adapter. Canon sells a few different adapters, the basic Mount Adapter EF-EOS R for $99.99, an upgraded version that adds a control ring for $199.99, and the Drop-In Filter Mount Adapter. The first two are available now, with the Drop-In adapter scheduled to ship in March 2019 with your choice of a circular polarizer ($299.99) or variable power neutral density ($399.99).
The adapters are important—they allow you to use Canon’s extensive line of lenses with the EOS R, with absolutely no detriment to optical quality or autofocus speed. All of the EF lenses I used with the EOS R, which included not just Canon optics, but also third-party lenses from Sigma and Tamron, worked without any issue. The quality and pricing of the adapters make the RF system very appealing to photographers who have a large investment in Canon glass. You can also use Canon EF lenses via an adapter with the Sony mirrorless system, but you don’t always get the same level of autofocus performance as with native lenses, even with a good adapter like the Sigma MC-11.
The native lenses are also a reason to look at the RF system—even if the EOS R isn’t the most earth-shattering debut. The standard zoom, the RF 24-105mm F4 L IS USM, is of high quality, and has a longer reach than the 24-70mm F4 Nikon has made the default lens for its Z system. But it’s expensive, selling for $1,099, even when purchased in a kit.
It’s joined by two prime lenses, the $499 RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM and the premium RF 50mm f/1.2 L USM ($2,299). The most unique and ambitious RF lens, the 28-70mm F2 L, is huge, heavy, and priced just shy of $3,000.
The only other full-frame, f/2 zoom we’ve seen to date is from Sigma, the relatively short 24-35mm F2 DG HSM Art, which can be used with the EOS R using one of the EF adapters. Canon’s take isn’t quite as wide, but zooms in closer. It’s also the only RF lens I’ve not yet had a chance to try, so I can’t speak to its quality as of yet. But given how good the other three lenses are, and the price, I expect it to be a favorite for event photographers.
On one hand, I’m happy to see Canon making a statement with its RF lens line. But I can’t help but wonder if potential EOS R customers will be scared by the lens prices. An affordable 24-70mm or 28-70mm zoom would go a long way to get folks started. As it stands, budget shoppers should think about EF glass and the basic $100 adapter to use it.
Dual Pixel AF Sets EOS R Apart
The EOS R uses the same Dual Pixel AF system found in recent Canon SLRs. Instead of using a series of masked pixels, as is the case with most mirrorless cameras with on-sensor phase detection, Dual Pixel AF splits each pixel in half, so each can act as a phase detection sensor due to the very slight offset between the two. This means that any of the camera’s 30 million or so pixels can check focus, although not all are active—it’d be overkill and the too much for the camera’s processor to handle. Instead Canon has opted to make 5,666 pixels active for focus, with coverage almost all the way to the edges of the sensor.
In addition to autofocus, the EOS R’s Dual Pixel AF supports Canon’s Dual Pixel Raw file format. It’s something we looked at closely when it was introduced with the EOS 5D Mark IV. In short, it’s not a very useful feature—it gives you some ability to adjust the focus point, but not by much, and comes at the cost of greatly increased file sizes and slower operation. I’m happy to see that Canon hasn’t dropped it, because some photographers may find it of use, but it’s not a selling point.
In terms of speed, Dual Pixel AF is quite fast. It locks on to targets in an average of 0.1-second, although I did notice a little inconsistency with the EOS R. It would often lock on to our focus speed test target in almost no time, but could also slip to about a 0.2-second lag on occasion. In dim light the EOS R is a little slower, hitting focus in about 0.4-second.
There are a number of focus area modes available. By default the EOS R uses a wide area, with face detection. It does an okay job detecting faces—definitely not as good as the Sony a7 III. I found that a subject turning their head fooled the EOS R easily, and there were other times when the camera didn’t find a face at all, even when it was looking toward the lens. Eye detection is also available, although it too lags behind the Sony a7 III in functionality and performance. The a7 III has no problem keeping the focus point on a human eye, even in AF-C, while the EOS R doesn’t support eye detection when tracking subjects in its AI Servo mode.
The other focus area options are pretty standard. You can use a flexible spot, with two additional levels of expanded flexible spot available as well. This is the mode where you need to set the focus point position manually, either via the touch screen or rear directional pad. Finally, you get two narrow strips of focus, one running horizontally and the other vertically through the frame.
Speed and Continuous Drive
In terms of speed, the EOS R powers on, focuses, and captures an image in about 1.4 seconds. It’s a pretty typical mark for a mirrorless camera, alleviating any unfounded fears that the EOS R’s shutter design would slow down the startup process. Most mirrorless cameras leave their sensors uncovered when powered down, which gives them a very slight advantage in power-up speed. The EOS R closes its mechanical shutter when turned off, covering the sensor. Time will tell if this reduces the incidence of dust getting on the camera’s sensor. I’m not convinced it will make a huge difference—I’ve seen dust on sensors of all types, from SLRs to rangefinders to mirrorless designs.
The EOS R is able to shoot at up to 8fps with focus locked. Its buffer is ample, but the number of shots you can take before the camera slows down changes based on the file format. We tested Compressed Raw and JPG (60 shots), Uncompressed Raw and JPG (45 shots), Compressed Raw (99 shots), Uncompressed Raw (52 shots), and JPG (99 shots). If you’re shooting in Raw+JPG or JPG, expect about 12 seconds between filling the buffer and writing everything to a fast memory card, or about 10 seconds if you’re shooting in Raw format.
Enabling AI Servo, which tracks subjects as they move, slows down the burst rate. The EOS R manages 5.3fps in this mode, with very good accuracy, even when the target is moving toward or away from the lens. But when you consider that the Sony a7 III does the same thing at 10fps, for less money, it makes the EOS R seem less capable than the competition.
A Proven Image Sensor
The EOS R uses a very similar image sensor to one found in the company’s popular 5D Mark IV. The resolution and size are the same, although this implementation has a newer image processor, the Digic 8. The processor supports a higher top native sensitivity (ISO 40000), and powers the EOS R’s faster Dual Pixel focus and burst rate.
If you’re shooting in JPG format you’ll enjoy images without too much noise (1.4 percent) through ISO 12800, but there is a loss of image quality when pushing the camera that far. You’ll get the absolute best shots at the lowest setting, ISO 100, and you can push as high as ISO 1600 without noticing any real detriment to clarity.
There’s a slight softening at ISO 3200, though it’s not bad. Details are noticeably less sharp starting at ISO 6400 and maintain a very similar level of quality through ISO 25600. Pushing the sensitivity to the top standard ISO 40000 setting introduces more significant blur, which carries on through ISO 51200, which is available as an extended setting. The blur is noticeably worse at ISO 102400, the furthest you can push the EOS R’s sensor.
Shooting in Raw format eliminates the in-camera noise reduction that blurs the high ISO JPG output, but it also captures images with more visible grain at higher settings, and requires you to process images with software before sharing or printing. We use Adobe Lightroom Classic CC as our standard Raw converter.
Raw quality mirrors JPG, with the best results at ISO 1600 or lower. But instead of losing a bit of detail at ISO 3200, we just see a little bit more grain. The output at ISO 6400 and 12800 is rougher, but shows much more detail than corresponding JPGs. Detail remains strong at ISO 25600, and while grain is heavy, it’s not overwhelming.
At ISO 40000 the grain is more troublesome, and large and rough enough to remove some fine detail from images. The rough look only intensifies as you push further, with results at ISO 51200 that are noticeably grainier, and very little detail is visible at ISO 102400.
Against the competition, the Sony a7 III shows just a little bit less grain at top Raw settings, but also has fewer pixels than the EOS R. It’s a wash in my book—both image sensors are extremely capable, although you’ll enjoy a bit more latitude pushing shadows with the Sony.
One of the aspects we don’t hit too heavily with most camera reviews is metering—for the simple reason that it’s typically not a problem. I noticed some serious inconsistency with the EOS R’s metering when using the default Evaluative setting. Typically a camera’s standard metering pattern reads the entirety of a scene and figures out the exposure, and does so consistently assuming the lighting doesn’t change.
The EOS R weighs its metering to the active focus point or points, which can lead to wildly different reads of the scene in shots with areas of highlight and shadow. There are some cameras that let you turn on this behavior as an option—it’s long been a feature in Pentax SLRs—but with the EOS R you don’t have the choice to turn it on or off. You can only narrow the metering pattern to Partial or Spot, which only look at a tighter, more central area of the frame, and don’t lend themselves to as advanced, intelligent metering as the camera is capable of in its Evaluative mode.
Cropped 4K Video
While I have very little bad to say about the EOS R’s image quality, I can’t be as kind when it comes to video. First, let’s talk about the good—the 4K video is very crisp and shows excellent colors out of camera, and the 1080p video is also quite good, given its resolution limitations—each frame of 1080p is 2MP, versus about 8MP for 4K. Video autofocus is very strong, and the EOS R does a very good job keeping focus on moving subjects. There are different options for frame rates, including 24 and 30fps at 4K, and up to 60fps at 1080p.
But the camera applies a very, very heavy 1.6x crop to 4K video, which effectively turns its full-frame sensor into an APS-C or Super 35 chip. With no native APS-C lenses, you’ll have to adapt EF-S lenses, or perhaps invest in Canon’s massive EF 11-24mm f/4L lens if you want to capture 4K at the widest angles. Even with the crop, I saw some evidence of wobble in footage, caused by the rolling shutter effect. Typically a cropped sensor area is meant to reduce this effect.
The EOS R also omits in-camera stabilization, which means you’ll get shaky video if your lens doesn’t have stabilization. Stabilized lenses are better, although from my experience a combination of lens and sensor stabilization nets the best look for handheld video. The EOS R does offer additional digital stabilization, but turning it increases the crop and softens details—I’d only consider using it if working handheld with a lens that omits stabilization.
If you opt to use the highest video quality, file sizes are huge, about 3GB per minute for 4K and about 2GB per minute for 1080p, so make sure to invest in a big memory card if you plan on using the EOS R for video capture. There are heavier compression levels available to keep file size down, but they come at the cost of quality.
The camera does offer some features that pros will employ, including a microphone input. I noticed a clicking sound in some footage recorded with the RF 50mm F1.2 L USM—the focus motor is to blame. It’s something you can sidestep by using an external microphone. If you go with a lens with a quieter STM type motor, it’s less likely to be an issue.
Once you put everything together, the conclusion is clear: The EOS R should not be on your shopping list if you’re at all serious about video. The Sony a7 III is our favorite camera for video in this price range—it shoots 4K without a crop, offers Log and HDR capture, includes proxy recording, and most importantly, in-body stabilization. The Nikon Z 6 has a similar feature set, and while we’ve not yet tested it, early reports show that it’s on the same level as the a7 III for video.
An Underwhelming Debut
Canon stumbled with its very first mirrorless camera, the long-discontinued EOS M. Like the EOS R, it wasn’t as capable of a camera as those from competitors—all of whom had a head start in the space. But its engineers went back to the drawing board, developed Dual Pixel AF, and implemented it in the EOS M5.
It makes some similar mistakes here with the EOS R. They are not with the focus system—it may not be on the level of the Sony a7 III, but the a7 III shattered expectations of what autofocus in an affordable full-frame camera could be. Instead, I see the omission of in-body stabilization to be a big misstep, and there’s simply no excuse for such heavily cropped 4K video in today’s world.
We’ve come to expect Canon to be a bit slower moving than some of its competitors. It was the last major player to release a mirrorless camera, after all. It’s also a little slow to realize that the Sony a7 III, which was released earlier this year, dramatically changed what customers can expect from a full-frame camera at this price. Instead of holding back features in order to push customers to buy a more expensive camera, Sony put most of the functionality from its pricier a7R III and a9 models into the a7 III. Nikon is taking a similar approach with its Z 6, which shares the same body design and build quality as the pricier, high-resolution Z 7.
There is little doubt in my mind that an RF-mount body with more professional specifications will come in the future, at a higher asking price. Just look at the prices of the initial batch of RF lenses—the customers who will spend $3,000 on a huge f/2 zoom are likely working professionals who will pair it with a body that can be used for weddings, sporting events, and other demanding situations.
It’s this bit of identity crisis with the RF system, coupled with my issues with the EOS R—ergonomics and its video system chiefly among them—that lead me to caution potential customers. If you’re in the market for an affordable full-frame camera, the EOS R’s body fits the bill, but the 24-105mm is a big additional cost, with no discounted bundle available. I’m sure Canon will release a more affordable zoom eventually, but we may see another camera body or two before that happens.
There are certainly some customers for whom the EOS R makes sense. If you’re already invested in Canon lenses and are thinking about buying a 6D Mark II, you may find the 4K video and the EOS R’s better image sensor are worth the cost. But you can also use Canon lenses with the a7 III using a similar adapter to the one Canon sells for the EOS R.
Canon needs to do better. As it stands, the EOS R is no threat to the Sony a7 III, which is one of the most capable full-frame mirrorless cameras you can buy at any price. That it’s $2,000 makes it a staggering value, and our Editors’ Choice. We haven’t yet tested the Nikon Z 6, but have wrapped up work with the Z 7 and the cameras share quite a bit of tech, so we also expect it to be competitive with the a7 III.