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Canon EOS M Mirrorless Interchangable Lens Camera

Several weeks ago Canon announced their long anticipated entry into the mirrorless camera segment, the Canon EOS M.  While Olympus and Panasonic were early pioneers in this market, Sony soon joined them and raised the bar with their NEX line, including the current NEX-5 and NEX-7 (and upcoming NEX-6).  Nikon then came along with their Nikon 1 series, the J1 and V1, leaving Canon as the last of the major players to bring out a mirrorless offering.

Canon EOS M mirrorless camera
Canon EOS M – Image courtesy of Canon USA

Mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras are a sort-of hybrid of a high-end compact camera and a dSLR system – with various advantages and disadvantages born of this mix.  Then are much smaller and lighter than a dSLR, while still allowing one to change lenses.  Thus rather than a lower-quality all-purpose built-in zoom of a compact, one can use a variety of lenses to fit their needs (wide angle, telephoto zoom, etc.) and allow them greater control over aperture settings and depth of field.  However, many of the cameras require the use of smaller (and lighter) lenses specifically designed for the mirrorless body, and most manufacturers offer a very limited set of lenses at this time.  Many brands offer adapters to allow the use of dSLR lenses, but adding a larger and heavier lens may defeat the purpose of a small, light, portable mirrorless body!

Mirrorless cameras don’t have an optical viewfinder but instead use a rear LCD screen like a compact camera – plus some models offer a standard or optional electronic viewfinder (a teeny tiny LCD screen in a viewfinder).  One of the important advantages is that the mirrorless cameras contain a much larger image sensor than most compact cameras, with some of them (such as the Sony NEX models) even boasting an APS-C size sensor.  (APS-C is the same size as found in most entry level, intermediate, and pro-sumer dSLR cameras from the Canon T4i or Nikon D3200 to the Canon 7D or Nikon D7000 and D300S.  Professional dSLR cameras such as the Canon 5D line and the Nikon D700/D800 have a larger, full frame sized sensor).  These larger sensors provide much better image quality and better low light / high ISO performance than most every compact camera.

Mirrorless cameras don’t share the same phase detection autofocus system as a dSLR with a dedicated AF sensor, but instead have a contrast-detection AF system that uses the image sensor to focus, just as if using a dSLR in Live View mode.  This contrast AF system is typically slower than the dSLR system, which contributes to a bit more shutter lag than the near-instantaneous response of a dSLR shutter.  However great improvements have been made in the AF systems and shutter lag of the mirrorless cameras.

While the new Canon EOS M is not yet out there for real world use and review, many including myself are very pleasantly surprised with all that it offers, based on its specs.  The EOS M take nearly all of the great features and capabilities of the extremely competent Canon T4i dSLR, and packages it in a small, light, and portable body.  The major difference of course is of the phase detection AF system of the T4i which is not able to be fit and used inside the EOS M.  The EOS M is thus very comparable to using the T4i in Live View.

Canon EOS M mirrorless camera
Canon EOS M – Image courtesy of Canon USA

Canon EOS M mirrorless camera
Canon EOS M – Image courtesy of Canon USA

 

Canon has announced their latest model in the G series of high-end compacts, the PowerShot G1 X, and its specifications indicate that it may finally have brought the G series to the place where most have always wished it would be.  While the G12 and previous models worked well as the compact camera with manual control, for dSLR users who didn’t want to carry their dSLR with them, they never quite fully lived up to the task because the sensor and lens sizes simply did not allow for dramatic shallow depth of field and good background blurring in many situations.

Canon g1 x g1x gx1 gx 1 compact asp-c large sensor high end g12
image courtesy of Canon USA

The G1 X takes the model-line a giant step forward in fulfilling this promise, as it includes a larger 18.7mm x 14mm sensor – not quite as big as an ASP-C sensor in a dSLR, but six times larger than the G12 sensor and larger than the sensors of any of its competitors including the Four-Thirds cameras and the Nikon 1.  Combined with its 4x zoom (28-112mm) lens, f/2.8 to f/16 aperture range, low light capabilities, Digic 5 processor allowing for 1.9fps or up to 4.5fps for 6 shots in high speed mode at full image quality, 14-bit RAW file support, and full HD video, this should prove to be a very popular compact for pros and dedicated enthusiasts, as well as to ideal primary camera for enthusiasts and travelers who simply don’t want or need the size, weight, and bulk of a dSLR system.  High end digital cameras are rapidly making the move back to smaller and lighter bodies, and the G1 X is going to serve to push this trend along.

The body of the the G1 X is slightly larger than the G12, sitting taller and wider with a larger lens protrusion, but is none-the-less still incredibly compact for the size of the sensor and all else it offers inside its metal body.  The camera boasts 14 megapixels, the HS system for excellent low light performance, fast response due to the Digic 5, a 9 point autofocus system plus child-priority face detection, +/-3 EV exposure compensation, built-in neutral density filters, an articulating screen, and even an HDR mode.

However, despite all that it offers, the G1 X is not capable of completely replacing a dSLR.  Its shutter response time is likely not instantaneous, its maximum aperture at the telephoto end is only f/5.8 thus limiting the amount of background blurring, its high speed shooting 4.5fps at full image quality is only for 6 shots before the camera needs to stop and process, and its built-in lens does not give the range, focusing speed, and zoom speed and control of an interchangeable lens.  But for those willing to work with these compromises, the image quality will likely meet or exceed your needs.

I would like to go into more detail about this promising model, and compare it to the G12, as soon as I learn more about it and have a chance to study the differences.  But as it looks now, this just might be the G model that starts to approach the depth of field flexibility and the increased performance that many have longed for with the already-well-regarded high-end compact G series.

Pre-order yours from B and H Photo here! – $799 – expected Feb. 2012

The official Canon press release for the G1 X can be read on their site here.