The Canon EOS R Mirrorless Camera Wedding Photography Review Part 1 – First Impressions
*Canon EOS R Review Update 12th Feb 2019* – New firmware is out (v1.1.0) and this impacts some of my comments
Corrects a phenomenon in which an error may occur if there is a large number of files in a specific format on the memory card.
Corrects a phenomenon in which an error may occur when silent shutter has been enabled.
Corrects a phenomenon in which horizontal linear noise may occur when using specific lenses together with certain recording image quality settings.
Corrects a phenomenon in which the information displayed in the viewfinder may become abnormal.
The Canon EOS R Review
Usually within a week of getting a camera that’s evolutionary or revolutionary for the system it’s contained within I’m there with my credit card and within a week I do a blog post singing it’s praises for being the greatest thing everrrr. I usually know when I see the specs that it’ll be a camera I love, enjoy and it’ll change my photography in a positive way.
The Canon EOS R camera though, that was a different experience. Three things held me back, the lack of a joystick and the single card slot. I just couldn’t see it elegantly fitting in with my current setup (2 x 5D4’s). Thirdly the general downplay by youtubers who weren’t really using it in a way that I would, which is weddings and portraiture.
It took me two weeks to get off the fence and order the EOS R, in fact, it was in my checkout three times before I submitted the order and even then the only way I justified the purchase to myself was that if I didn’t like it and sold the thing then I would take less of a hit than if I’d hired one. If I loved it, I’d sell my third (and spare) 5D4.
‘The Canon EOS R is not a professional camera, but more of a 6D3’ – lots of angry people on the internet
Before we go in to ‘full review mode’ and tell you where I’m at with my work.
I’ve been a wedding photographer for almost 10 years with over 500 weddings shot. I started using Canon because I liked the red ring (yes really) and I’ve been with Canon ever since but along the way I’ve romanced with the Hasselblad H series, The Sony A7ii (stopped working near a misty waterfall in iceland), The 645Z, several mirrorless cameras, D750 (4000 frames then died), the Fuji XT2, Ricoh GR2 (excellent street camera), OM5, Mamiya 7 and pretty much everything I could get my hands on. I’ve also used every Canon pro body since the 1DS mkiii
I’ve always been happy with Canon for the most part, great colours, lenses, ergonomics and a bulletproof build quality. I’ve always been very frustrated by how small their buffers are along with limited custom button assignments and lack of a fun and useful tilty screen when other manufacturers have had them for years.
I shoot mostly in AV mode, auto ISO, AWB, and ride the exposure compensation like a badass because the camera can think quicker than me and I’m about capturing brief fleeting moments as well as storytelling the day. I’d rather be thinking about the content of my frames and where I need to be next than shutter speed and ISO settings.
I’m not sponsored by anyone and aim to make this as unbiased as possible. I’ll be covering the things that matter to me shooting when shooting weddings. There won’t be any content covering video as I never use it.
- First impressions
After finally pulling my finger out and ordering the Canon EOS R with the EF to RF adapter it arrived after a few days and out of the box it felt in the hand what we’ve all been waiting for, a mirrorless 5Div.
Build quality is the first thing you recognise, even though it’s smaller it still feels like you can be rough with it. It feels well engineered because it is, the ergonomics are almost there, some of the buttons on the grip are easy to press just by lifting the camera (I’m mainly talking about the AF-On button) which sure, is ok if you leave it assigned to that. Assign it to the One Shot – Servo switch you’ll find yourself in the wrong AF mode A LOT.
The touch bar is a waste of real estate to me and it could of been so much more if it was tactile. The bar has no movement to it (I know, yes, that’s because it’s a touch sensitive bar) but if I press a button I need it to press and give the associated feedback. When I have tried it it’s slow to respond, a bit ambiguous and it’s currently disabled in my menu system. I’m not the only one to do this either.
The screen is very bright, clear and the EVF is also true to life. The flip out screen is something I wasn’t sure of at first preferring the Sony / D750 style. However after a bit of use it’s a much better thing to have. Shooting around corners for one reason with the other being there’s a lot less chance of your hand casting a shadow over the EVF sensor and turning off the screen when flipped out.
I also felt that the top lcd while cute, wasn’t big enough to show the functions and is in no way as clear as the 5Div’s. That’s not down to the size either. Canon have inverted the colours and they’re harder to see. (Blame Phase One – they started the trend). You can illuminate the screen but the button has to be held down a little bit to illuminate rather than pressed. In Canon’s defence though, I rarely use it now after some time using the body and you can configure the button to illuminate the display only, but you scrifice the ability to see the other half of the camera settings there in doing so (it’s a dual function button by default).
Even though this is not considered a pro body, it walks like a pro, quacks like a pro so you could call it pro.
The Canon EOS R Mirrorless Camera Wedding Photography Review
Part 2 – The AF System aka ‘Thanks, but where’s the joystick’
- The AF system:
In and upon itself the AF system as far as accuracy goes is blisteringly good. The only time I’ve come across something as good was when I was shooting using the rear screen of the 5Div to focus.
Having the dual pixel AF system has breathed new life into my lenses. My 50 1.2L is like a new lens and thanks to the -6ev AF ability I can now shoot in super low light scenarios, from a distance and nail focus – quickly too.
The Canon EOS R has AF points across the frame, so I’m able to select the exact spot I’d like to shoot and be confident it will hit, no more focus and recompose for subjects at the fringes of your frame. With the EVF being so accurate and clear I can also get the correct exposure without having to look at the last photo to check.
^ Nice huh?
All my EF lenses behave just like they do on my 5Div. It’s true native behaviour and it really does feel as though nothing has changed in the way they work.
But now for the elephant in the room.
The lack of Joystick is a pain and yes, I know it’s not a pro camera and I accept that but I really hope to God that we see a joystick in the pro body, otherwise I will jump ship to another brand because I would expect when one comes out that’ll be it for at least two years.
To Canon’s credit though, there’s a lot of AF options on the table and while I won’t go into them all I’ll cover the single point selection ones.
There’s three ways you can manually select the AF point.
- The touchscreen
- The directional buttons
- The two dials which are usually assigned to the AV / TV designation which can be activated by hitting the matrix button.
The last two are self-explanatory. The Canon Eos R touchscreen can be setup to have either each corner active, the top, bottom, left or right half active or the whole screen. I personally have mine set to the top right corner so my thumb (which is feeling lost without a joystick) has somewhere to go.
And this for the most part works ok, trouble is, to move from one point to the other I have to do three swipes. I work in a business that captures moments so the longer it takes me to complete an action the greater the chance I’ll miss that moment.
There are also two types of touch mode, ‘relative’ which is the mode above and ‘absolute’ which is a lot faster but is so sensitive that if I find the point I want to be on with my finger tip, when I take my thumb away it moves the point (because my eye is at the EVF and the pad of my thumb touched the screen). So it’s a mode that doesn’t really work.
What confounds me a little is why Canon set the EOS R to only move the AF point one. single. point. at a time with the D pad. If I could select the amount the directional buttons moved the AF points – like 5, 10 or 15 points at a time I’d probably be a bit happier. As it stands the D pad isn’t effective for my needs. It would be great if, via firmware Canon allowed us to decide how many AF points are active.
Face detect on the EOS R does work very well as does the Eye AF. No real complaints there and it’s also handy to have because one of the failings of phase detect AF seems to be if there’s a lot of coloured lights firing at you the camera can, very occassionally find it difficult to focus but flipping it to face detect nails it.
Servo mode is as good as the 5Div (when using it for my work). Initially I didn’t think it was but I set it up the same as my 5Div and that’s all I needed to do.
- Tracking sensitivity: +2
- Accel / Deccel tracking: +2
This is good for aisle walks and first dances which are alI I usually track. There’s a conflict on the internet about what the manual says the tracking sensitivity should be. A lot of people (and the manual) say that it should be -1 to keep locked on a subject but I prefer my AF to be super paranoid – I usually have a clean line of sight too during the procession and the first dance.
But I can’t speak for its ability for sports or fast moving subjects where, if the internet is to be believed, it’s not so good. But it’s good enough for me.
The Canon EOS R Mirrorless Camera Wedding Photography Review
Part 3 – Card Speeds, Buffer Size and Data Safety
- Card speeds, the single card slot issue, raw buffer, Craw
I’ve always used Sandisk Extreme Pro cards and on arrival I didn’t have any UHS-ii cards. I popped the card in, the camera turned on, then off after 2 minutes. It displayed an ‘err dunno’ error. This card was straight out of my 5Div and as soon as I formatted it all was good so maybe there’s a bug that causes it to flip out pre formatting. I am aware of there being issues with UHS-I cards. (Thanks internet) Someone suggested it’s down to the camera being designed for UHS-ii…
No, it’s a bug. UHS-ii is backwards compatible with UHS-i.
So if you can, grab a UHS-ii card because you don’t really appreciate the write speed tripling over your Canon 5Div until you shoot 100 full RAW shots in a row at normal burst speed. Or, even when the EVF says you have 26 shots available in the buffer you get 45 high speed burst shots (Raw + Large Jpeg) and when the buffer is full you get another 10 shots 1.5 seconds after stopping.
This is another one of the main reasons I wanted the camera. If I’m shooting a confetti throw, and here in the UK it’s usually an everlasting tunnel where I walk backwards into nan I can honestly say the 5Div buffer was way too small. Same for sparkler tunnels too. It shouldn’t be the case that I have to stagger burst mode to let the buffer recharge and I am frustrated that Canon haven’t addressed this with a bigger buffer on their previous bodies. Even though the buffer wasn’t big enough I could of made do with being able to limit the burst mode to 5 shots instead of 7 but Canon never did that (and 3fps was too slow). A simple thing that seems obvious to enable.
Mraw is no more, long live Mraw. It’s been replaced by Craw, which is compressed raw and it’s ok I guess. But pixel binning and a smaller image size would have been nicer so I can keep my dynamic range.
The single card slot of doom is a perceived worry and I guess a justified one. I’m not particularly comfortable with it but then again I’ve never lost a full cards worth of data and if I ever had a corrupt file it’s down to the camera readout not the card.
There are ways around this, which is using camera connect to transfer files to your phone, but it’s only for Jpeg. Which seems odd because it gives a valid use case to Craw. Hmmm.
Anyway, it doesn’t matter because whenever I tdo get it to work it’s fine when constantly shooting, but stop or power down the camera (as in when changing lenses) and you have to reconnect all over again.
You could always swap out cards after every 32gb but I feel losing a card will be a bigger risk than the corruption of a single card.
I think the biggest risk to data for me at the moment is that I don’t have two Canon EOS R’s. Because I’m finding I shoot 75% of a wedding on that camera because my lenses work so much better on it than the Canon 5Div.
The Canon EOS R Mirrorless Camera Wedding Photography Review
Part 4 – The RF50 lens and mixing it with EF lenses
It’s very easy to run through a wedding with an EF to RF adapter attached to the body and letting it stay there as if you have a standard DSLR by your side. It feels natural and native to swap lenses but throw an RF mount lens into the mix and it gets a bit slapstick.
While I tend to wander through a wedding with all the grace of Rocky Balboa after 9 rounds I like my camera system to be as elegant as possible. When I want to jump from my EF 35mm ii to an RF lens I’ll take the lens off with the adapter, shoot the RF, then I may want to move to a macro. But I need to remember where the adapter ring was last and I have to go through the painful process of taking that lens back out, re-attaching it, removing just the lens and fitting the Macro. This isn’t me being precious about it either. The bride was late, I now have just over 45 minutes to complete the group photos, couple shots and I’ve not even shot the confetti throw yet because nan prematurely chucked a glass instead. Now where’s that damn adapter!
In a high pressure environment everything changes so considering how few lenses there are for the Canon R right now it might be worth just running EF lenses.
That said, the RF50 lens is the sharpest glass I’ve ever used in my life to date. It’s so, so accurate, fast, the weight is good too as it’s at the back of the lens. It’s ‘technically’ perfect. I thought I’d seen it with the 100mm Macro, then the 35L mkii but no, it’s the RF50.
But you might prefer your ‘imperfect’ EF50 instead. I’m on the fence. But then I’ve always found the 50mm focal length a bit hit and miss for me. What I will say is that you can shoot from 20 metres away at 1.2 with the RF50 and hit sharp focus. You can’t do that with the EF50 1.2L because it’s not perfect when wide open by design – but that’s also why people love it.
It would be really nice to see Canon rock up with a new RF35 + RF85 1.2’s – and it wouldn’t surprise me if they did. *Update 4th Feb 19 – the 85L 1.2 has been confirmed* Canon is wandering around with something to prove at the moment and they’re serious about the RF mount. The new mount now allows the heaviest part of the lens to be at the back rather than the front so even though the RF50 is heavier on a lighter body it’s exceptionally well balanced. Expect more of this.
The Eos R Menu system:
Those familiar with the tabbed Canon menu system will be right at home with the EOS R. Other than some new features it’s the same as the 5Div.
You have the ability to assign a lot of functions to pretty much ALL the buttons on this camera. However not every function can be assigned to every button. I’d like to assign the aperture preview button to one of the directional buttons but I can’t.
I can’t see any good reason why either. I’m not a technician, I wasn’t there at Canon HQ when they passed the design around but this is always frustrating unless different parts of the camera have different software modules…I don’t know. it’s annoying to set all your AF settings to the top buttons but I can’t move an essential button somewhere else.
i.e. I’d like to set the top screen LED button to one of the direction buttons – but I can’t but there’s a massive catalogue of other things I can move, just not that.
It’s the same as the 5Div, maybe there’s a bit more highlight recovery but otherwise, move on, there’s everything and nothing to see here. Great file quality that is getting a kicking from youtubers just because it’s based around an almost 3 year old camera. I still miss shooting weddings with my now 5 year old 5DSr’s, I loved those files but the 5D4 had the speed. So stop it youtuberoo’s.
My main reasons for buying the Canon EOS R? (and why maybe you should do too)
For me there were several niche reasons why I wanted the EOS R.
- The larger buffer and write speed available via UHS-ii. This is a game changer in so many ways. No more issues shooting burst mode, I can keep on shooting. It’s three times better than the 5Div.
- Shooting in Black and White but still having colour raws. This is a really good way to improve your framing and the content of an image. By shooting in black and white you’ll remove all the colour distraction from the scene and see contrast in a different way. If it looks good in black and white it’ll usually be amazing in colour.
- Being able to pick an aspect ratio to shoot in. As a big fan of medium format the 2:3 ratio is the equivalent of shooting 6×4.5 – The Fuji GFX, Pentax 645z, Hassy H4D and Contax 645 as examples and there’s something about that framing which is particularly nice. Plus, by shooting in that format if you find it’s a little tight when editing you can open it up again.
^ Canon 35L mkii @ 1.4 – this is my favourite lens on the R. You think it’s good on your 5Div? It’s even better on this camera – 16:9 framing through the viewfinder is fun to shoot too.
- The silent shutter – it’s already saved my behind a few times in a church and I’m able to shoot more frames than before. It’s giving me more content for my couples and that’s a good thing.
- The flip out screen – angles I couldn’t get before are now available to me.
- -6 EV focusing is 50% better than the 5Dmkiv’s liveview. That’s a big improvement that trickles down to all lenses, not just the 1.2’s. It means I can really use it for dancefloor stuff at F2 apertures. I used to have to make do with the old ‘F8 and be there’ method but being able to shoot at F8 on my left and F2 on my right really has an impact, any highlight strobes I use are all soft and fluffy now.
For those reasons alone I feel it was worth the initial spend. So I sold a 5Div.
Truthfully it took me a good 2000 frames to get a handle on this camera. It’s super familiar on one hand but brand new in another and it does take some time to get used to. You’re rewarded for this effort and I’ve got some shots I never could of without it. When it first came out a lot of people I knew had their hands on it and after a couple of hours put it down judging it on that experience and they weren’t positive about it.
Some even gave up and jumped to Sony. Personally, I owned an A7ii for a while and it wasn’t for me, (it died through normal use and the card slot kept opening up in my hands) but that doesn’t mean to say I don’t like the A7iii, I’ve just never used one but I held one yesterday and to me, the ergonomics were just awful. I’ve got to carry the thing around all day and my pinky finger has nowhere to rest. I’m sure I’d get used to it if I held it for more than a few minutes but it’s silly things like that which kept me with Canon. They’re just put together better and the strength in a camera starts at the bottom with build quality and ergonomics.
I have edited the files from an A7iii though and I can happily confirm Sony seem to have their colours in order now.
I love this camera and I’ve been thinking about this a lot but feel that ON BALANCE it’s the best camera Canon has ever made.
I do think this is a controversial thing to say, I can hear a load of 1DXii owners screaming at me that I’m an idiot but I really put ‘on balance’ there for a reason. It does everything really well but isn’t a camera you can point at any one type of photography. It has a perfect spread across all styles and it wouldn’t surprise me if Canon deliberately placed it there for this reason. If they’d released this camera with dual card slots and a joystick I swear everything would be different on the scene. I’d certainly be running these as my main bodies, the AF is THAT good. I’d still need to use my 5Div’s for shooting a dancefloor at F8 though as the EVF can’t keep up. Then again I don’t think any EVF’s can keep up.
The Canon EOS R is just a super fun camera to use, it’s excited my passion for photography again and I will benefit from it going forward.
The EOS R – What I’d change:
- It’s not techincally a pro body, I get that and I feel like I’ve treated it like one in my comments (sorry) but it’s hard not to as it’s a-l-m-o-s-t there.
- Joystick for the AF points – Really important. Many, many professionals start moving the AF points before they lift the camera up to their eyes. We shoot moments, not the moments after.
- Dual card slots – I don’t really think this need to be said, the pro version will have them
- Full control over what the buttons can be set to.
- I’d like to see control over how many shots burst mode has. I don’t need 8 shots in burst, 6 will do and my (high speed) buffer lasts longer.
- IBIS – Which I really think will be in the pro body. Recent mid range lenses have IS but the RF 50 doesn’t? This is speculation, but I bet the top secret roadmap for the RF35 and RF85 shows they are non IS too. It would be a big miss to not have IBIS in the future iterations of the EOS R.
- Better control over the minimum shutter speed setting in the custom menu when auto shooting. Currently you can only limit the shutter speed in full stops and I could get another half stop lower ISO and a better file if this was changed.
- The much raved about feature where if the camera is turned off – The shutter closing to protect the sensor is great, but how about when I take a lens off the EF/RF adaptor and when I remove the lens from the body. Because I never turn off the camera when switching lenses and I’m certain I’m not alone, right?
- Silent burst mode (that’s coming apparently – update – It’s in Firmware v1.1.0)
- The ability to reduce the number of active AF points so moving between them would be super easy. It could even make the touch screen more usable. It’s great we have corner to corner points but we don’t have to use them all.
- Touch screen accelleration in relative mode. I like relative mode, but why three swipes when one would do?
- Haptic feedback in silent mode. Why nobody has done this already blows my mind. Just a little rumble through the grip after the shot is taken. It doesn’t have to be much but I need feedback in the absence of a shutter click. (and no, a white border in the EVF isn’t good enough in a high pressure environment), I’m looking at the centre of the frame, not around it.
- It would be nice to shoot in B+W in the EVF only, with jpegs and the jpeg previews contained in the raws remaining in colour – because culling in B+W isn’t as fun as doing so in colour.
- A setting in the EVF and Rear screen so that it’s red for those shooting Astrophotography. It’s the ideal colour for night vision.
Things that could be improved / bugs (after 7 weddings and 15,000+ frames)
- UHS-I cards don’t seem to be this cameras best friend but I’ve seen no disaster stories.
- Sometimes there’s an annoying lag when looking through the EVF in low light. (You have to wait for it to wake up despite being set not to turn off)
- I use a spider pro holster (with a spider light fitting) and sometimes if I hold it up to my eye the EVF shows the HUD in portrait mode and doesn’t correct to Landscape.
- I put in a brand new LP-E6N battery that came with my Eos R a couple of days ago and the camera said it was fake. Pulled the battery and it’s been fine since. <shrugs>
- Sometimes the camera won’t AF. (like once in a thousand shots) – You can’t see the AF point and you have to hit the delete button to clear it.
I’d really love to see a trinity of 1.8 L series glass. Not a macro RF35, but a 35/50/85 1.8 L non-stabilised set of glass that will mean a reduced weight setup for travel and super long wedding days. There is a market for this, I like F1.2/F1.4 but if I was shooting overseas I’d prefer a lighter setup. I’m really surprised we don’t already have this. Proper mid-aperture L glass.
The Canon EOS R Review – Conclusion / final thoughts / alternatives
As I’ve said already, I do think this is the best all-purpose camera Canon have ever made and looking to the future the pro scene looks really good for us who just won’t leave Canon due to their build quality, ergonomics, reliability, pro services and lenses.
There’s the Z series from Nikon to consider which nobody seems to be talking about and there’s the very vocal Sony community who are quite rightly raving about their A7’s. The mkiii in particular.
But, if you’re a Canon user already with a lot of lenses it makes the switch hard financially and you may as well hang on for the pro solution because when it comes along it’ll be mind-blowingly good. The RF50 lens isn’t something Canon just pulled out of their ass. They’ve been working on that for years and are super serious about the RF mount. There’s a very good reason no EF lenses will be released this year – Canon are focusing on mirrorless.
That being said. You can professionally shoot with almost any full frame dslr or mirrorless camera now. You don’t NEED a mirrorless camera. You can buy a used 5D3 and shoot with that because it’s not what the camera is but who’s holding it that counts.
If your personality or ability sucks it won’t matter which camera you have.
One thing that is certain though, after the megapixel wars, the high iso wars and then the dynamic range wars we’re now entering the age of the functionality wars. What the camera can do, how adaptable and adjustable it is going forward will be important for the foreseeable future.
Lastly, can all the manufacturers hurry up with the global shutters please? Just as we get silent shooting everyone moves to LED lighting!
I hope you liked this writeup. If you’d like to read more about this camera I really rate Bryan Carnathan’s teardown at the Digital Picture The Digital Piture EOS R Mirrorless Camera overview and it’s very unbias, not sponsored and really quite honest.
If you’d like to purchase my personal Lightroom preset that I use as a base point for all my editing from the last 4 years, you can buy it by sending $10 via Paypal to email@example.com (please include your email address) – This is suitable for most Canon cameras but works particularly well with the 5Div and EOS R.
If you’re looking for a raw develop profile, Colin Walker at Huelight has the best ones https://www.colorfidelity.com/ and that, in combination with my preset above will give you some great results.
Here is the latest firmware for the Canon EOS R – Canon EOS R Firmware 1.1.0
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