An afternoon with the Canon EOS R
Updated: Jan 14, 2021
In September this year, Canon took their new system: the EOS R and RF mount on tour, in anticipation of it's release on the 9th October, in a string of events dubbed the "Full Frame Roadshow". I was lucky enough to be attend to the Birmingham roadshow on the 21st and got to be amongst some of the first people in the UK to test it out! Canon had several EOS R bodies available to use, with an option between 2 different lens: The RF24-105mm F4 L IS USM, which will be the kit lens, and RF50mm F1.2 L USM (had to check the EXIF data to get those lens names right there!). They also had 5D mark III's with lenses available but I only wanted to use the EOS R so I didn't take any photos with those. All the photos in this post are taken with the EOS R and are the JPEGS straight from the camera, completely unedited but resized to be more upload friendly. The EOS R shoots at a native 6720 x 4480 resolution, so very large! But a quick disclaimer; I'm not going to get very techy because I'm no technical professional! There are several reviews floating around from various different outlets that go into big detail on the tech side of things, but rather than baffle you with specs, I'm just going to talk about my experience with it and it's appeal to consumers, more than it's appeal to photography professors!
Right off the bat I found the EOS R a little confusing; although I'm used to using my EOS 700D and my G7X mk II so the differences between them and the 5D mk III are also stark, but even so the EOS R has re-arranged where certain options are, and what certain buttons do. To get to Live View I had to cycle through different LCD screen options using the 'info' button, where as my 700D has a dedicated button. And I really struggled to figure out how to manipulate the autofocus. I switched to touch AF when using live view, but when shooting through the viewfinder I couldn't figure out how to tell it to focus on different areas of the image so I ended up just setting it on range AF. I'm sure there is a way you can do it, but I got lost in the myriad of options. If you're more experienced with full frame cameras you probably won't be phased so much by all the buttons and options but coming from an enthusiast DSLR the detail was lost on me. I feel like rather than have a button that goes straight to an option several different options are all clustered around a single button press.
We were put in 3 different scenarios to play with our cameras, the first being a model shoot with Nick, who is the handsome chap in these photos below. The point of this was that Canon wanted to show us how well the EOS R picks up EV in very low light. I found a balance of settings that worked for me, and I'm not really knowledgeable enough to talk about EV but there is very little instances where the camera has overblown a highlight and pretty much all of the time the autofocus was snappy and responsive even in very low light.
We were also hooked up to an external flash and asked to shoot in entire pitch black darkness. I found shooting a subject without zero idea of how I'd framed it in the viewfinder very unsettling but I still managed to get some good shots. The point of this again was to demonstrate how well the EOS R picked up EV. We shot in manual with preset settings, but I found these turned out with a very strong blue tint. You can obviously edit this out with gel filters or post processing, and I don't think it's down to the camera or anything. The point being that EOS R had no problem focusing in zero light and again, none of the highlights we're blown out.
The second 2 scenarios were both macro subjects. I've never been massively into macro photography, but I got some decent results. One of the neatest additions to the EOS R system is the introduction of a control ring to the RF lenses. When using the 50mm in macro I fixed the shutter speed and used the control ring to adjust the aperture (kind of like how a film lens would work?) and I found that worked really well for me.The control ring can be set to adjust shutter speed, aperture or ISO and is a really nice addition. Whereas I usually shoot TV and let my camera calculate my aperture for me, I found myself shooting manual with the EOS R because I felt I had control over both fairly easily and could adjust them quickly on the fly.
On the subject of manual, the manual focus on the 50mm RF lens was really nice. I don't have a frame of reference to compare it with any EF lens, but picking it up for the first time and using it I immediately felt in control and it was perfectly smooth and precise. A little display in the viewfinder gives you the approx depth of field your focus will cover but I found it easier to set a depth and then just move the lens away slightly until the subject was more crisp. There is also a setting you can turn on that lets you know when you have pin sharp focus; two little triangles appear above your focus spot and gradually get closer together until they turn green and when they turn green you have perfect focus, but I found that distracted me slightly and I was obsessed with getting it perfect all the time. But it's there and will be a great assist to measure detail not always visible to the human eye.
From an hardware point of view, despite being mirrorless, It actually felt to me like the EOS R was heavier than the 5D mk III. With either the 24-105mm or the 50mm, the 5D mk III still felt lighter with a 24-70mm L lens attached to it. And from a bulkyness point of view there was very little difference in size between the 2 with the EOS R being fractionally smaller. If the point of being mirrorless is to reduce space and weight then Canon have work to do here to make them smaller and lighter than the 5D or 6D series.
Despite being slightly confusing at first and a little intimidating I found shooting with EOS R to be really enjoyable and I'm really happy with the photos I've taken with it. Of the 2 lenses I definitely preferred using the 50mm over the 24-105mm. Canon has introduced a lot of new features that make the EOS R feel like a step forward, and from a personal point of view the introduction of the control ring is a big plus for me. It was a big factor in me making the decision to go for the G7X mk II, and I think that is going to be a very appealing feature with consumers. Aside from that I honestly couldn't say how much more different, without going into technicalities, the EOS R is from the 5D or 6D series. There is no dual slot function on the new EOS R which I know will be off putting to some photographers and for now there doesn't seem to be a real big reason to sell your existing bodies to rush out and upgrade to EOS R. Canon claim the lens performance of EF lenses is improved with EOS R but your results will speak for themselves. If, like me, you don't have a full frame system yet, then the EOS R definitely brings enough to the table to make it worth making the jump upwards from APS-C but if you already own a 6D or 5D body that is fairly recent in release, I don't think the EOS R is going to give you buyers remorse just yet. That being said, this is a brand new system that Canon have introduced with a lot of possibility for future developments and I could imagine it phasing out the EF line in the future as more RF lenses are introduced.