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Canon M5 Review | Canon’s First Real Mirrorless Contender

By Holly Roa on March 27th 2017

I want to address the elephant in the room straight away before we get this thing started: public perception of Canon’s M series cameras isn’t great. From comments on the First Impressions post, it’s clear that Canon has a PR problem on their hands regarding this line. Forget what you think you know about this camera if you’re only familiar with other Canon M cameras. I will admit that Canon was late to the mirrorless party and stumbled on the way to where they are now, but the M5 is a pretty solid camera.

I received this camera for review the day before leaving for vacation and it was perfectly suited for the task. Testing the M5 on a trip was an ideal way to become familiar with it, and its compact-yet-sturdy form fits snugly in my hand, and the images produced looked great so it was compelling (and easy) to take everywhere I went.

It’s not without faults, but it’s a very useable, very fun camera.

[RELATED:] CANON 5D MARK IV OFFICIAL REVIEW | GEAR TALK EPISODE 13

08-features-4-stars

The M5 has quite a lot going on in the features department. Its 24.2MP APS-C CMOS sensor provides ample detail in photos, and its speedy DIGIC 7 processor is a treat hardly any other Canon cameras have received yet. The dual pixel CMOS phase detection autofocus system has 49 focus points that can detect faces and track motion, and with no mirror causing hinderance, it can shoot a burst of 9 frames a second. ISO ranges from 100 to 25600 and shutter speeds are 30 seconds to 1/4000, plus bulb mode.

Video is a mixed bag. 4k aficionados will be disappointed that the M5’s highest video resolution is 1080p HD, and in an odd oversight, Canon has included a mic input but no headphone jack for monitoring. This instantly makes it less appealing for videography, unless you prefer to capture sound on an external recorder like a Zoom H5. But the M5 does boast 5-axis digital image stabilization in video mode, which is certainly useful, though it would have been nice to have in-body stabilization for stills as well.

The 2.36m-dot electronic viewfinder, which sets it apart from the rest of the M lineup, is gorgeous. The 3.2″ rear LCD also looks stunning, can tilt up and down for photos above and below eye-level, without climbing or crouching, and can also fold out to face the front, under the body. It’s a touch screen, and it’s very responsive.

The M5 has WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity for on-the-go image transfers, and unlike some of its competitors, it is wonderfully reliable.

There are physical buttons and dials for most things that you would typically need to change on the fly as well as accommodations galore for the novice consumer, which, thankfully, don’t get in the way of the experienced photographer.

It has a built-in pop-up flash which will not intrude in your photos uninvited – it must be popped up manually with a button next to it and when not in use sits incognito, and there is also a hot shoe for attaching Canon Speedlites. Photos are stored on a single SD card, and battery life is rated for 295 shots or 85 minutes of video.

It’s available in a kit with either an EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM lens or EF-M 18-150mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM lens, or body-only (which is what I’d recommend.)

The M5 has earned itself four stars for features because while it does have a lot of great features, some are notably missing. Consumers have been asking for 4k video on Canon cameras for years and while they’ve finally delivered in some professional bodies, leaving it out of the M5 was a missed opportunity to be more competitive with other mirrorless cameras on the market. The tilting screen is useful, but since it flips down and not out, it can’t be used in conjunction with a tripod, and it ticks the WiFi box but leaves out GPS.

 

For the most part, this camera performs very well. Autofocus is snappy and tracking is effective. The touch and drag autofocus is a cool feature that works well. If you aren’t familiar, touch and drag autofocus lets you touch the screen while you’re looking through the viewfinder and drag your finger around to change your autofocus point. The spot you’re touching is shown in the EVF and that’s where the camera focuses. The M5‘s autofocus may not quite be DSLR-fast, but it’s not too far off.

For testing, I received two lenses – the EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM kit lens and the EF-M 22mm f/2 STM prime. The kit lens is… a kit lens. It’s not awful for what it is. Overpriced, probably, at the $299 asking price but adequate. I hardly used it and when I did, I wasn’t overly enthused. It’s light and plasticky, like a toy. Optically it’s okay, but if you’re reading camera reviews, “okay” probably isn’t what you’re after.

The 22mm f/2 is what I used a good 95% of the time or better, and I enjoyed it. It has a more substantial feel to it, despite being very small, and has a curiously tiny front element through which you can see an adorable set of aperture blades. With it, images are sharp and have good contrast, and with this lens mounted, while not quite pocketable, it’s very compact and easy to carry around with you all day.

[REWIND:] A CANON SHOOTER’S REVIEW OF NIKON LENSES & A SONY BODY | IN THE ENEMY’S CAMP

Battery life isn’t the best, as to be expected from a mirrorless camera, however, I only received one battery with the camera and only found myself wishing for the already-depleted juice a couple times over the month plus that I had it. Just plan ahead and charge it fully when you know you’ll be taking it out, and ideally, if you own this camera you will have more than one battery anyway.

One reason I found myself with less battery than anticipated occasionally was that the video record button is easy to bump and start an accidental recording. There were a few times that I hit the button without noticing and took a five-minute video of nothing in particular, eating up battery life on the way. It’s not just me, as I handed the camera off to another photographer to check out and realized after getting it back from them that it was recording a video, but they hadn’t intentionally started recording.

Ergonomically, the M5 is a delight. The first thing noticed on unboxing was that it felt like it was made of high-quality materials. It’s compact but solid, and doesn’t feel cheap. The grip fits the hands comfortably, and most of the body is covered in a textured rubberized material that looks and feels nice.

The M5 has focus peaking, something that most Canon users have to get via Magic Lantern if desired. Whilst shooting a concert, to use autofocus would have meant blasting the musicians in the face with a bright autofocus assist beam, so manual focus was clearly the way to go. Thus,  focus peaking was turned on and it was nice to have, but I the lines could have been a little more obvious.

You can change the colors of the peaking indicators, which is really useful for things like changing stage-light colors. For example, when the lighting became blue, the blue peaking indicators were doing me no good, but there’s the ability to easily change it to red which was much more visible. Still, after uploading the images more were not quite in focus than I would have guessed in the moment looking at the focus peaking in the EVF.

Another discovery as a result of shooting the concert was the slight delay from the press of the shutter to the capture of the image, and that was a bit of a let-down. It’s not really noticeable until you’re shooting something fast-moving, but when you are it requires a little bit of extra prediction to grab the moment you want. Granted, the 9fps can help with that, but who wants to spray and pray when not necessary?

The tilting LCD is handy. Photographing dogs on the street, it’s very convenient to not have to be on knees and elbows to get to a dog’s eye-level for photos. Also, if you’re short, like I am at 5′ 3″, it’s nice to be able to reach overhead and see the photo I’m taking if I need a higher vantage point. Even those who aren’t vertically-challenged will find uses for this feature, like shooting a top-down scene from overhead while previewing it on the LCD. Since I personally don’t have any particular need to mount the camera on a tripod and be able to see the LCD from the front, I’m not too perturbed by the fact that there isn’t a way for that to work, but vloggers beware – you wouldn’t be able to set the camera and monitor yourself as you record.

That you can mount Canon Speedlites and use all of the functions is great, but the jury’s still out as to the M5’s validity as a strobist’s camera. I tested it with a 600EX-RT and had no issues other than the fact that the Speedlite feels really big on top of the tiny camera, but I was not able to successfully use it for any OCF purposes.

First I tried a Yongnuo YN-E3-RT, which is a clone of Canon’s ST-E3-RT TTL radio transmitter. It was incompatible, though Canon’s own transmitter may work. Next, I tried a Profoto Air Remote but oddly it wouldn’t even fit in the hot shoe. Perhaps the M5 has a lower profile hot shoe than a DSLR. It wasn’t tested with Pocketwizards during my time with the M5, and if those will work with this camera I’ll retract my statement, but I haven’t seen any evidence that they do.

One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard about the M lineup is a lack of native lenses, and this is true; the pickings are slim as far as that goes. There is only a handful, and there are no fast zooms at all. What’s nice for those who are already Canon users and who want to pick up a mirrorless companion, is that Canon makes their own EF to M adapter.

If a Canon user buys another system, they have to rely on third party adapters which are not known for working flawlessly. I used the  Canon EF-M Lens Adapter Kit for Canon EF / EF-S Lenses and tried out some EF lenses with the M5 to how how it all fared.

The 100mm f/2.8L macro was much less awkward than I had anticipated. The 40mm f/2.8 pancake was basically doubled in length with the addition of the adapter but was still quite slim and fit nicely with the camera. The 50mm f/1.8 STM was marginally bigger but still felt pretty natural on the M5. The 24-70mm f/2.8L II was tiptoeing into ridiculous territory. It works, and the resulting images are great, but it’s a big, bulky mismatch for the M5. Usable, but silly. That said, the adapter is an ideal solution when used with smaller lenses, and autofocus performance doesn’t appear to suffer.

Taken with Canon’s EF to M adapter and 100mm f/2.8L Macro

Taken with Canon’s EF to M adapter and 24-70mm f/2.8L II

The design is very good, for the most part. Foibles would be the shallow hot shoe, the easy-to-accidentally-press video button, and the LCD that can’t be used with a tripod when flipped to the front of the camera for viewing while facing the camera.

Aesthetically, the M5 is very similar to a shrunken 5D series or 60/70/80D series camera in form. It has a look that’s a little sleeker and classier, though. The material the body is made of has a slight metallic sheen and the dials and buttons on the top of the camera are beautiful metal, with the dials having textured edges. As mentioned earlier, there is an attractive rubberized, textured coating around the front of the camera. Controls are easy to access and intuitive.

19-quality-5-stars

The quality is outstanding. It feels solid, comfortably weighted with some heft – neither too little so as to feel cheap or too much. The materials are beautiful and look and feel high quality.

23-value-4-stars

It’s not inexpensive, nor should it be, but the fact that you need to spend an extra couple hundred dollars on an adapter to widen your range of available lenses brings the value down a notch to a four-star rating. It is a high-quality camera that produces high-quality images, and if it the adapter was included with the purchase or more high-quality native lenses were available the value would be improved.

 

The M5 is docked for the missing features, design flaws, the small selection of native lenses, and difficulty with OCF use. There’s a funny thing about this camera, though, that when you write out every little thing about it, it sounds less awesome than it feels when you actually use it. It really is a super fun, super cute little walk-around camera.

Ideal candidates to make the most out of Canon M5 ownership: street photographers, parents who want a camera handy to capture all the little family moments, natural light photographers (I do think this could be used professionally if you don’t need to use an off camera flash – the image quality is there), people who enjoy photo walks, photojournalists (the sneakiness coupled with the quick uploads via WiFi could potentially let a PJ get the shot and send it to whoever needs it ASAP), people with some money to burn who want to pick up a little camera for a trip. For all of these characters, the best value is going to be for those who are already anchored in the Canon system.

People who probably want to look past the M5 in search of their dream camera: those who are serious about videography or feel they need 4k capability; people who need their camera to have many native lenses; photographers who are all about their lighting (unless the M5 would be a companion camera to one that can is more compatible with OCF).

There you have it. A big review for a little camera. Love it or leave it? If you love it so much that you’re ready to pick yours up today, you can find it right here.  Let us know what you think!

About

Seattle based photographer with a side of videography, specializing in work involving animals, but basically a Jill of all trades.
Instagram: @HJRphotos

15 Comments

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  1. Ann Blank

    Found a lot of useful information, I am happy to join your community! http://tocka.com.mk

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  2. John Williams

    I was so excited when the M5 was announced, I made a pre-order and received mine on the first day out, from B&H, on 12 December. I work with my 1Dx and 5DsR daily, and had an SL1, which I sold, as my carry around camera.  I work with only “L” lenses or “ART” lenses.  Yes, the Canon EF to EF-M adapter is perfect….It’s flawless.  But to me, the MAGIC of the M5 is to use the old legacy glass I’ve had in storage for a long time. Lens adapters are easily available for all of the old mounts. I have Pentax M42 lenses, many Canon FD lenses (the good stuff I used with my F-1’s), Nikkors, etc.  But the shining star is when Leica M lenses are mounted onto the M5!  Image quality is NOT to be believed (and I shoot with 5DsR’s!)  It’s like owning a little Leica, only with much better focusing (thanks to the excellent focus peaking and instant magnify button on the touch screen).  Leica M lenses are so petite and fit beautifully.  Surprisingly, the Canon FDn 50mm 1.4, with the adapter, looks like it was built for the M5! I own the (meh) EOS EF 50 1.4, and the older FD runs in an entirely different and higher league.  Also, the benefit of being able to test all of your lenses on the same body/sensor is an absolute first to me.  I love carrying My M5/Leica with me everywhere. If you seek a sports camera, this isn’t it.  Much like a bus doesn’t work like a car.

    The simplicity of walking or cycling with such a compact kit that creates astounding images (I print 40×60″ giclees), I cannot imagine better.  I own a Sony and the menu system is insane…Canon deserves a huge ovation for creating this machine…and those holding out for full frame, I predict will be disappointed by the bulk that this camera does not have. I see no need for it…and remember I shoot with a 5Dsr!  Doubt me?  send me an email and I’ll send you a full res 4000×6000 JPEG file off the M5….and tell me you need more.  

    The best camera and lenses in the world are useless, if you have no skills behind it.  The M5 is so good, it’s almost like cheating!

    [email protected]

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  3. Mike Esco

    I’ve had my Canon M5 for a little over 2 months now and I love it.

    This review is pretty spot on with my own testing. Overall, it’s just a super fun camera to use. The use of Touch and Drag focus placement with my eye to the viewfinder is a new feature that really changes the game.

    I am just now beginning my journey to learn how to use flash to control and shape light. And while I’d prefer to use the  Yongnuo YN-E3-RT for OCF which doesn’t currently work (hoping for a firmware update from Yongnuo) I can confirm that the Yongnuo YN622 Wireless transmitter/Reciever seems to work just fine. Since I don’t really know what I’m doing yet, I can’t say how well they work all round because I don’t know what I should be expecting. They seem to work fine in Auto E-TTL mode though. In any case, I’m happy to have an OCF option to learn with.

    In terms of Kit lens, I went with the 18-150mm lens. It’s what I would expect from a kit lens in terms image quality. Compared to other M lenses, it’s a tad larger, and definitely prevents putting it the camera in your pocket, but compared to carrying an EF Variable zoom lens, there’s no question this is much more comfortable to carry around. For Daytime Travel shooting, this lens works just fine as an all day shooter. When the light gets low, pop on the EF-M 22mm, or the EF 50mm with the adapter and you’re covered.

    So far I think my biggest gripe is the shutter delay which is especially noticeable during Servo. I can’t figure out what’s wrong with it, but it’s pretty unreliable in low light. The Camera’s Continuous AF feature seems to function fine, but noticeable delay in servo mode. 

    All in all a great, fun little camera. Very happy with it.

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  4. Harry Andreou

    How do you guys think it compares to the Canon 100D ? Their size difference is very small and i think the sensors are similar as well. Obviously the 100D has a mirror but also the advantage of all the native EF (and -S) lenses. I have a 24mm EF-S paired with it and it makes a great small team. Im mostly curious how the Quality differs with the M5. Cheers!

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    • adam sanford

      That reminds me — thx.  The SL1 is getting updated for any folks who were waiting for that instead of giving up and getting an M5 or M6 instead.

      A Rebel SL2 (i.e. follow up to the SL1/100D) is in the works for release this year according to CR — not a distant rumor but more of a certainty, there have been formal registrations published on it. 

      No idea what will be on-board, but birders/hikers who want a tiny second body are salivating at the thought of the 80D sensor trickling down into an SL1 footprint.

      So if you need [tiny] + [Canon] + [OVF], the SL2 would be the rig to wait for.

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  5. Jonathan Brady

    Knocking a camera because 3rd party flashes and accessories don’t work with it is pointing the finger at the wrong piece of the puzzle. It works fine with the Canon ST-E3-RT. The Yongnuo transmitter doesn’t work properly (focus assist beam doesn’t work) with the 5D Mark IV. Is that Canon’s fault too? 

    Also, I pre-ordered my M5 + 18-150 from Canonpricewatch.com and got it for $1299 with the adapter. No need to pay retail when CPW is around. 

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    • adam sanford

      +1 on the flash comment.  Dead on. 

      I am similarly distraught that my aftermarket cell phone holder does not affix well to the A/C vents on my Lamborghini Gallardo. Clearly it’s time for me to call Italy and get this debacle sorted.  :-P

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    • Holly Roa

      *pst* you guys… “First I tried a Yongnuo YN-E3-RT, which is a clone of Canon’s ST-E3-RT TTL radio transmitter. It was incompatible, though Canon’s own transmitter may work. Next, I tried a Profoto Air Remote but oddly it wouldn’t even fit in the hot shoe. Perhaps the M5 has a lower profile hot shoe than a DSLR. It wasn’t tested with Pocketwizards during my time with the M5, and if those will work with this camera I’ll retract my statement”

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  6. Patrick Chase

    I rented the M5 and came away with the same overall impression: The whole is more than the sum of its parts (or its specs). It’s a pity that it’s missing some obvious “market-critical” features like 4K.

    One thing you didn’t mention is video AF performance, and particularly its subject-tracking capabilities. The modern dual-pixel Canons are very strong in that respect, and the M5 is no exception.

    HD video quality is another surprising strength of the M5. Several well-regarded cameras basically force you to shoot 4K and downsample if you want decent (sharp, not noisy, not aliased) HD footage, whereas the M5 a very good in-camera HD implementation.

    I also had the same problem with focus peaking. I have a background in image-processing, and I suspect that Canon’s implementation isn’t sufficiently selective. By this I mean that it displays the “in-focus” outline along fairly weak edges that aren’t really in critical focus. I confirmed this by taking shots across the full range for which a specific edge was highlighted. The edge was quite blurry at both ends of that range.

    If I had to guess I’d venture that the leading peaking implementations use some sort of adaptive-threshold scheme (i.e. they adjust the edge-strength threshold on the fly based on the scene content) and Canon doesn’t.

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  7. adam sanford

    Nice review.  This is more or less an 80D in a smaller package, but without more/better/faster EF-M glass, it will never really sing unless you bolt EF glass on it, which is a shame.

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    • Holly Roa

      Have you tried the 22mm f/2? I really liked it for a little walk-around lens. I was also pleasantly surprised with Canon’s EF to M adapter. The lens functions were virtually indistinguishable from native M lenses. Mounting a big lens is pretty ridiculous though, but it works in a pinch!

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    • adam sanford

      I was holding off entirely on EOS M until it came out with an integral EVF and DPAF, which we now have… but I think I’m saving my money for FF mirrorless as I don’t want to step down to APS-C from my 5D3.  Size isn’t worth losing smaller DOF opportunities and better low light performance (for me).

      But even if I was in for EOS M, EF-M needs USM lenses, faster primes and one decent f/2.8 zoom.  Until then, it’s a nerfed platform in which you can’t get the most out of that small body without using large/heavy image-circle-oversized FF lenses (i.e. large diameter barrel lenses)

      This is where Fuji wins.  When there is no FF flagship to drive folks to, you build great glass for APS-C.  EOS M folks would give vital parts of their anatomy for just 1-2 key lenses in the Fuji X lineup.

      (But yes, the EF-M 22mm f/2 STM is universally loved.  It’s the #1 EF-M lens to buy.)

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  8. Raymond Wong

    I debated getting this vs the a6500 and ended up with the m5. The a6500 is better in almost every aspect but quite a bit more price wise. I wanted it as a travel and family camera and sometimes the ability to use my canon lens and strobes. Ive used it with my profoto air ttl c without any issues. My yn 600exrt didnt work but my canon 600 exrt did work. Not a bad camera but not as great compared to its competitors.

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    • Holly Roa

      Very strange, after reading your comment I went back and triple checked the Air Remote. I tried it in the M5 and two other mirrorless cameras I had handy and it wouldn’t fit any of those hot shoes. I wonder if they’ve quietly made a change to the Air Remotes, or if I have a weird one or something. Thanks for your input!

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