In the Field: Canon EOS R Full-Frame Mirrorless System

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Canon isn’t new to the mirrorless game, but one thing arguably lacking from its comprehensive lineup has been a full-frame mirrorless camera. In late 2018, that spot was filled with the introduction of the Canon EOS R; the latest camera in both Canon’s mirrorless and EOS lineup.

Canon EOS R Mirrorless Digital Camera

The EOS R is built with the serious hobbyist or semi-pro photographer in mind. Designed to hold its own in various elements and climatic conditions, the camera features a durable magnesium-alloy body and protective weather sealing around buttons, terminal covers, and the battery and memory card compartments. Inside is a 30.3MP CMOS sensor and DIGIC 8 image processor to capture vivid, clear images and video, even in low light. The EOS R has a single memory card slot that accepts SD, SDHC, or SDXC cards. It also takes LP-E6N batteries—the same battery Canon users would recognize from most of the brand’s DSLRs.

For those already accustomed to shooting EOS cameras, handling the EOS R feels super-familiar and intuitive. The buttons are sleek and simple. One new control—the multi-function touch bar, within thumb’s reach of the shutter button—can be programmed to scroll through photos, check manual focus, change camera settings, and more. The lightweight camera body has a deep-set grip, which works nicely to counterbalance heavier lenses, and an electronic viewfinder leaves a generous amount of room between your nose and the camera body. This seemingly small design feature turned out to be a huge plus when wearing eyeglasses.

On the EOS R’s top right, you’ll find a small dot-matrix LCD screen that displays camera settings and shooting mode. This little LCD stays on even when the camera is powered off, and you can program it to display in black or white to best suit the ambient lighting. On the back side of the camera is a 3.15" vari-angle touchscreen. The swiveling screen makes it possible to frame awkward high or low angles, touch-and-drag your autofocus (with up to 5,655 manually selectable AF points), and even compose selfies.

One of the EOS R’s proudest features is its low-light handling. Its normal sensitivity range is ISO 100-40000 with extended mode covering ISO 50-102400 (for video, normal mode is 100-25600, or 100-12800 for 4K). Even when pushing higher ISOs, the noise handling really is impressive. In the not-so-distant past, shooting at even ISO 6400 was dicey. That’s a piece of cake for the EOS R, and higher ISOs continued to deliver on the promise of optimal performance.

Autofocus is impressive, too; it’s sharp, accurate, and close to instantaneous at just 0.05 seconds and uses Canon's Dual Pixel CMOS AF system. It also continues working well in conditions as dim as a light rating of EV -6, which is excellent for doing nighttime photography, and would also make life easier for those shooting dark wedding or concert venues. There are several autofocus modes available here, including 1-point AF, Expanded AF, Zone AF, and Face+Tracking (with optional eye detection). If you prefer to focus manually, the EOS R has a neat feature called focus peaking. With this enabled, the area in focus is indicated by a bright red outline—and this outline shifts as you adjust the focus ring. Focus peaking is visible through the viewfinder, as well as on the rear LCD screen, if that’s how you prefer to compose your shot.

Photographers may notice a new exposure setting with the EOS R: Fv mode. This is Canon’s all-new Flexible-priority AE setting, which automatically adjusts shutter speed, aperture, and ISO according to the setting changes you make as you’re shooting. If you change your ISO, Fv mode will adjust aperture and shutter speed accordingly. If you change shutter speed, the EOS R automatically adjusts ISO and aperture. All of this is achieved automatically in one flexible setting, eliminating the need to toggle between Tv or Av modes.

The electronic viewfinder allows you to scroll through images or settings right in-camera without lowering it from your eye, making it easy to review details in ultra-bright conditions that may wash out the rear LCD. The EOS R also features a Silent Shutter Mode, which triggers a totally silent electronic shutter rather than the camera’s standard focal-plane shutter. For any gig that requires subtlety—think weddings, press events, or shooting wildlife—being able to go completely silent is a really nice feature. The only caveat is that Silent Shutter cannot be used with flash, but now, with a firmware update, it can be used with continuous shooting. As for the normal, electronically controlled focal-plane shutter, it’s rated to approximately 200,000 cycles and is as fast as 1/8000 up to 8 fps (up to 5 fps using Servo AF).

Alongside the EOS R, Canon launched four lenses in its brand-new line of high-quality glass, the RF series. As of early 2019, the series includes a wide-angle macro, two medium zooms, and a fifty.

The baby of the group—the RF 35mm f/1.8 Macro IS STM—is the most lightweight and compact of the four at only 10 oz and 2.47 inches long. Its petite dimensions and versatility make it a good option for an easy-to-carry walkaround lens. At 35mm, this lens is great for landscapes, scenery, or other wide shots, while its macro function (with a 0.5x magnification ratio and a minimum focusing distance of half a foot) lets you get in nice and close. It’s also the only lens so far in the RF series featuring Canon’s stepping motor, which lets video shooters track subjects quietly without the sound of autofocus registering on the camera’s mic.

The RF 50mm f/1.2L USM takes what Canon users love about the EF series lens of the same name and hones it further, with the most noticeable difference being build. The RF 50mm is about a pound heavier than its EF compeer, but it nearly doubles the number of elements, improving on the already stellar quality of the EF L-series 50mm. This is a beautiful lens for portraits.

For the next two RF additions, Canon introduces a pair of professional standard zooms: the RF 28-70mm f/2L USM and the RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM. The 24-105mm is a classic all-purpose lens that can do it all. Canon shooters who know and love the EF lens of the same name are well-acquainted with just how well the 24-105 works for anything; landscapes, portraits, weddings, travel, and more. The RF version is the first L-series lens to feature Canon’s Nano USM, a tweaked version of the Ultrasonic Motor.

The RF 28-70mm shares a similar focal length with the beloved EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM. Much like its EF contemporary, this lens would be a perfect addition to professional wedding and portrait photography kits. On the wide end, you can grab group photos or wide-shots of churches or venues, while the 50-70mm range is perfect for portraiture. And at f/2, this zoom is incredibly fast—so much so that Canon cited, as of its launch in late 2018, that it was the first autofocus standard zoom compatible with full-frame cameras to have a maximum aperture of f/2. The RF 28-70mm is a hefty lens, but much like other L-series glass, its build and quality are stellar.

All RF lenses feature a control ring on the barrel that can be programmed in-camera to manipulate many settings, including shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and exposure compensation. These lenses also feature a large 54mm lens mount and a short back focus distance, which place rear elements closer to the image plane. This cuts down on aberration and reduces the common issue of lenses being “soft” when shot at their widest aperture. This is a pet peeve for many photographers, so it was put to the test in the review. Sure enough, with all four lenses, image quality was consistently sharp while shooting wide open. The EOS R also has an in-camera digital lens optimizer that adds another layer of refinement to image quality (this works with all RF lenses, as well as EF or EF-S lenses plus an adapter). The optimizer helps preserve detail and sharpness while reducing peripheral aberration.

If you have your eye on the EOS R but are worried about having to buy all new lenses, don’t feel left out. Alongside the RF series, three new lens mount adapters let Canon users with an existing collection of EF or EF-S glass use the EOS R. When using EF-S lenses, the EOS R will crop field of view automatically to reflect the APS-C sensor size for which the lenses are designed.

Your options include a basic adapter, an adapter with the new programmable control ring, and a drop-in filter adapter that comes with either a variable neutral density or circular polarizing filter (for use with lenses that can’t accept filters in the front, such as tilt-shifts or full-frame fisheyes). The adapters are also great for pairing with an EF or EF-S super telephoto, which has yet to be added to the RF line. The basic RF to EF adapter was tested with Canon’s popular EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, and image quality was just as good.

To reiterate an important feature: As of the date of publication, Canon announced a firmware update this morning, which will allow for Silent Shutter even during continuous shooting.

What is your reaction to Canon’s RF series of lenses and R mirrorless camera? Have you had a chance to play with one for yourself? Let us know all your thoughts in the Comments section, below!

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