The Canon EOS M50 ($ 779.99, body only) is a new entry in the company’s APS-C mirrorless camera series. It’s the first M camera we’ve seen with a vari-angle LCD, a big plus for vlogging and video in general, and also the first to shoot in 4K, although functionality is limited when moving beyond 1080p. More enticing is an improved autofocus system, with wider coverage and 7.4fps subject tracking. We’ll have a full review of the M50 available when it ships in April, but here are our first impressions.
The M50 looks like EOS M5, although Canon stresses that it supplements rather than replaces the M5 in the lineup. It’s on the small side, but fits nicely in the hands, even with its rather shallow handgrip. Most of the native lenses for the M system are also very small, so you don’t need a huge grip when shooting with EF-M glass. The camera is available in two colors: black and white.
Aside from the grip and lens release button, the front is free of adornments. On the top you find the hot shoe and pop-up flash; the latter is raised and lowered manually. Toward the right are all the top controls—the M-Fn and Record buttons, the On/Off switch, the front command dial and shutter release, and the Mode dial.
The rear is dominated by the 3-inch LCD. Controls all sit to its right. The top right corner holds the AE Lock (*) and focus point selection buttons. They’re on a bump that extends a bit farther back than the rest of the rear plate, and creates a natural thumb rest to the left.
Below the thumb rest you get Info, Menu, and Play buttons, and the rear command dial. The dial has the Q/Set button at its center and can be pressed in the cardinal directions to set EV, control the flash, toggle AF and MF, and delete images during playback.
The Q menu, which can also be accessed via the rear touch screen, is an overlay display that puts additional shooting settings at your fingertips. It’s here that you can quickly set things like ISO, toggle between single and AI Servo focus, adjust the metering pattern, and more.
The rear display is a standard 3-inch, 1,040k-dot screen with touch input support. It’s a vari-angle design, so it swings out and to the side of the camera on a hinge, and can face all the way forward, up, or back. You can also close the screen against the body, showing its back (which is covered in a textured leatherette).
There are a number of touch functions available. Menus are navigable, you can tap to focus, and if you’re the in right focus mode you can tap on a subject to start tracking it. When using the EVF you can slide your finger on the LCD to move the active focus point. And when shooting video, sliding your finger from one subject to another racks focus.
The M50 has a standard 3.5mm microphone input, but not headphone jack, along with micro USB and micro HDMI data ports. Memory loads in the bottom, the same compartment as the battery, with support for SD media at up to UHS-I speed. The battery is the same as we’ve seen in other EOS M cameras. It can’t be charged in-body, but Canon includes a wall charger in the box. We don’t have a CIPA battery life rating for the camera as of yet, but expect similar performance to the EOS M5, around 300 shots.
The camera also has wireless connectivity, a cocktail of Bluetooth, NFC, and Wi-Fi. It supports automatic background transfers to an Android or iOS device via the Canon Camera Connect app, so everything you shoot will end up in your phone—this is limited to JPGs, Raw transfer isn’t supported. If you do shoot Raw, you can convert to JPG in-camera and then send it to your phone on demand.
There’s also a desktop companion app for Mac and Windows. You’ll need to set up the M50 to recognize and log in to your home network for it to work. Once you do, turning the camera on when you get home after taking images will initiate a transfer of everything new on the card, including Raw images, to a folder you set on your computer. It’s not as quick as using an SD card reader, even at 802.11n speeds, but it certainly takes less effort on your part.
Performance and Autofocus
I haven’t had a chance to shoot with the M50 in the lab or real world yet—my experience is limited to a few minutes with the camera in a corporate meeting space. But on paper It looks like Canon has upped the game on speed. It has a new autofocus system, powered by the company’s newest image processor, the Digic 8.
With most lenses, the Dual Pixel AF focus system covers 80 percent of the sensor, both horizontally and vertically, with 99 points of focus. But its capabilities are expanded with a handful of compatible lenses—including the EF-M 55-200mm, EF-M 18-150mm, and EF-M 28mm Macro. With those it covers the full sensor width, and top to bottom coverage is expanded to 88 percent with 143 points of focus.
The focus system also adds eye detection, something we’ve seen in a lot of Sony mirrorless cameras. It only works in single shot, not in AI Servo. When set to single shot focus mode the camera manages 10fps capture, and can track subjects at a speedy 7.4fps clip in AI Servo.
The M50 has a mechanical focal plane shutter, but adda a fully electronic shutter option, a first for the M series. It is a bit limited, however. You can only access it via a Scene mode, Silent, which also suppresses sounds and the flash. Because it’s a Scene mode you don’t get manual exposure control, but Raw capture is still available.
Imaging and Video
The M50 sensor is a 24MP design. It’s the same architecture as other recent Canon 24MP sensors, but has a slightly different pixel count (24.1MP versus 24.2MP) due to the way it’s implemented in the M50 design.
So we know what to expect from image quality, mostly. The Digic 8 processor is going to affect JPG quality, especially at high ISO, so tests are required to see how much improvement, if any, there is for JPG shooters.
Raw image quality should be just about the same. However, the M50 does have a new Raw capture option. You can still shoot standard Raw images, but if you’re concerned about storage space on your memory card or home computer you can switch to C-Raw. You can expect a little less image quality, but file sizes are about 40 percent smaller. Raw images from the current 24MP sensor are roughly 30MB in size, so C-Raw should cut them down to about 18MB. It’s not clear where the reduction in image quality is—whether it’s fine detail, dynamic range, or something else. We’ll put both formats through their paces when we get to shoot with the M50.
Canon sees the M50 as a good option for vloggers. Its vari-angle LCD, mic input, and Dual Pixel AF system are all big plusses for video. And if you’re shooting in 1080p, you can take full advantage of them, at 24, 30, or 60fps, with an in-camera 120fps slow-motion option also available.
But the M50 is more limited when you switch to 4K. The frame rate is locked at 24fps—fine for cinema production, but not ideal for fans of shooting sports and action—and the frame is cropped by a factor of 1.6x. If you’re shooting with a 15-45mm, which is a 24-72mm in full-frame terms, it becomes a 38-115mm, not great for fans of ultra-wide angles.
You also lose Dual Pixel AF, perhaps the best thing about Canon’s video toolset, when recording in 4K. The camera reverts back to contrast detection for focus, so expect slower, choppier changes in focus as it tracks subject movement. So yes, 4K is included, but it’s not fully baked.
It’s about time that Canon added 4K to a consumer camera—it’s currently only available in the pro-grade EOS 5D Mark IV and EOS-1D X Mark II SLRs and in its cinema cameras. But what’s in the EOS M50 was not the right way to do it. Cropped footage is something we saw in the early days of 4K, but full-width capture is expected in 2018. Even more of a drawback for consumers, who aren’t likely to manually pull focus for video, is the omission of Dual Pixel AF. Canon’s focus system delivers lovely results in video, with smooth racks from subject to subject. Going back to slower, choppier contrast detection is a step in the wrong direction.
That’s not to say the 4K option is useless. For scenes with a set focus point that don’t require wide-angle coverage, it’ll likely deliver excellent results. (We haven’t seen the actual footage yet.) But there are a lot other cameras out there that record 4K without these limitations, and are still better choices than the M50 for serious videography.
Aside from the limitations when shooting 4K, the M50 looks like a solid mirrorless entry from Canon. I’m happy to see the wider focus area and faster frame rates. It’ll take some field testing to see if it’s the equal of the focus systems we’ve seen in competing models like the Sony a6300 and Fujifilm X-T20, but I expect strong performance.
Lens options for the M series are still a bit limited. Canon has plenty of narrow aperture zooms, but there’s only one fast prime, and the only native macro lens is a wider-angle design. You can supplement native lenses with adapted ones, either Canon EF or EF-S lenses via an autofocus adapter, or other SLR system lenses via manual focus mechanical adapters. But I’d like to see the EF-M lens system built out a bit more. Some more f/2 primes would be very welcome, as would some wider aperture zooms.
The M50 will ship in April and we hope to have a review ready in short order. In addition to the body only option, several different kits will be available, including a bundle with the 15-45mm lens for $ 899.99, a $ 999.99 Video Creator kit and a $ 1,249 bundle with both the 15-45mm and 55-200mm lenses.
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