There have been plenty of false alarms in recent months, but Canon's first mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (ILC) is finally here -- in fact, we're holding it in our hands. The EOS M is clearly reminiscent of a point-and-shoot, such as the company's high-end PowerShot S100. Sure, Canon could have added some of the dedicated controls that its professional user base would demand, but photojournalists aren't the target here, for a few reasons. Canon's primary motivation, at least from an official perspective, was to create a camera that serves to bridge the gap between pocketable compacts and full-size DSLRs with a simple user interface designed to educate, not intimidate. Also key, however, was avoiding cannibalization of the company's low-end and mid-range Digital SLR models, which clearly still have a place in the lineup one tier above this ILC.
Consumers willing to sacrifice hardware controls for a touchscreen-driven UI won't be missing out on much else -- functionally, the EOS M is a near-clone of Rebel T4i with the same 18-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, DIGIC 5 processor and 3-inch touchscreen. Even the advanced two-stage focusing system has made its way from the T4i, which utilizes both phase-difference and contrast AF in order to achieve focus more efficiently when capturing video. The housing design and lens mount are unlike any other that Canon has produced, however, combining features from other models without completely eliminating the need for a DSLR, or a compact for that matter. If you can get by without granular controls, you'll do just fine here -- the design really is spectacular. With an $800 price tag, the EOS M falls within the upper tier of the mirrorless category, and it remains to be seen whether it will be an obvious pick when it finally hits stores in October, a month after competitors tease their own products at the massive Photokina expo in Germany. How does it fare today? You'll find our impressions just past the break.
The compact system camera designation lives up to its name with the EOS M -- it's no Pentax Q, but you wouldn't want it to be. What we have instead is a powerful interchangeable lens camera that's significantly smaller than even the PowerShot G1 X, falling in somewhere between that model and the pocket-sized S100. In other words, it's very small. With the 22mm kit lens attached, you'll easily forget that you're holding a camera that sports an APS-C sensor and a removable lens mount. But pair it with the EOS adapter and one of Canon's monstrous "L" lenses and the M looks quite paltry -- that duo's as unlikely a pair as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Devito.
The EOS M feels quite nice in hand, with a smooth, but solid, finish on the black model and a glossy, reflective magnesium alloy coating on the white version. The display is sharp and vibrant, and the touch functionality is accurate and responsive -- which is crucial, considering you'll be doing much more tapping with the M than you would with any other Canon EOS, or even a point-and-shoot. The touch-heavy interface reminds us of the Panasonic GF3, though the few dedicated buttons and wheel make it possible to input key selections when tapping isn't ideal, such as when navigating the multi-level settings menu. As with other cameras, Canon has enabled the touchscreen to support tap-based focusing, exposure and shutter release, making it easy to select specific elements in the frame.
Speaking of focusing, our experience was surprisingly sluggish, even with the 22mm and 18-55mm kit lenses. Using full-size EF optics, such as the 400mm f/2.8 L, was almost painful, with the camera struggling to adjust when shooting in a dimly lit room. Like image quality, which we weren't permitted to review on a computer, Canon says that the camera's performance is far from final, and given the October ship target, it's reasonable to expect significant improvements before the EOS M makes its way to consumers. Still, if speedy focus is critical, you'll probably want to opt for a full-size DSLR, or perhaps the Olympus EM-5. Overall, our experience was generally positive, though it should be abundantly clear that the EOS M isn't going to replace your high-end digital SLR rig. If you're looking to supplement your collection, or considering a jump from a point-and-shoot, this is certainly one to watch. You can take a closer look in our hands-on video below.